Russia's Putin says Ukraine bailout was not aimed against Europe

MOSCOW Thu Dec 19, 2013 4:03am EST

MOSCOW Dec 19 (Reuters) - President Vladimir Putin portrayed on Thursday Russia's bailout of Ukraine as an act of brotherly love to stave off economic crisis and said it was not designed to keep Kiev out of the European Union's clutches.

Russia agreed on Tuesday to buy $15 billion worth of Ukrainian Eurobonds and cut the price Kiev pays for Russian gas, weeks after Kiev spurned a trade pact with the EU, touching off anti-government protests.

"Now we see that Ukraine is in difficult straits ... if we really say that they are a brotherly nation and people then we must act like close relatives and help this nation," Putin told his annual news conference.

"In no way is this connected with the Maidan (protests in central Kiev) or the European talks with Ukraine."

Putin reiterated that the decision to reduce the gas price was a temporary move but he hoped to "agree on long-term cooperation" in the energy sector.

Some analysts have suggested the bailout of Ukraine is a gamble at a time when Russia's own economy is fragile and that it was taken for geopolitical reasons.

Putin acknowledged that Ukraine's credit rating was not high but said Russia believed in the competitiveness of its fellow Soviet republic's industry.

The president, 61, looked relaxed at the start of the annual question-and-answer session with hundreds of journalists from across Russia which was being broadcast across the nation. The annual news conference has often lasted more than four hours.

Taking questions from behind a desk on a stage in a Moscow conference centre, Putin did not respond directly to a question about his failure to persuade Ukraine to join a customs union with Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus which he hopes to build into a larger trading and political bloc.

Putin brushed aside a question about who might succeed him when his presidency ends in 2018. He has been Russia's dominant politician since he was first elected president in 2000 and has the right to seek a new term - his fourth - in 2018.

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