MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia wants to fight terrorism jointly with the rest of the world, President Vladimir Putin said in an interview published on Monday, while again accusing the West of exacerbating international crises that had contributed to it.
“We are faced with common threats, and we still want all countries, both in Europe and the whole world, to join their efforts to combat these threats, and we are still striving for this,” Putin said in a wide-ranging interview with Germany’s Bild newspaper.
“I refer not only to terrorism, but also to crime, trafficking in persons, environmental protection, and many other common challenges,” he said.
“Yet this does not mean that it is us who should agree with everything that others decide on these or other matters.”
Russia’s air force is attacking targets in Syria and Moscow says it aims to undermine Islamic State, which has been joined by thousands of Russian citizens and now poses a serious threat to national security. The group claimed responsibility for downing a Russian airliner over Egypt in October, killing 224 people.
But Russia has not joined a U.S.-led coalition carrying out strikes on Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, and Washington and its allies say Moscow’s strikes are only aimed at helping embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad stay in power.
Putin said previous Western military interventions in Iraq and Libya had contributed to an upsurge in terrorism in these countries and elsewhere, reiterating what he had told the United Nations General Assembly in September.
He hit out at NATO’s expansion toward Russia’s borders after the Soviet Union’s demise in 1991 and at an anti-missile shield being erected by the United States, accusing the West’s expansion after the Cold War of exacerbating international crises.
Putin has repeatedly called the toppling of Ukraine’s former President Viktor Yanukovich in 2014 after months of pro-European street protests “a coup d’etat”, and has accused the West of inspiring and assisting it.
In February last year, France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine agreed on a set of peace accords, known as the Minsk agreements, which have helped to stop the war between pro-Moscow separatists and government troops in southeast Ukraine.
But a key clause of the peace deal, which stipulates a new Ukrainian constitution that enshrines the autonomy of the rebel regions, remains unfulfilled, Putin said.
“Everyone says that the Minsk Agreements must be implemented and then the sanctions issue may be reconsidered,” Putin told Bild, referring to Western sanctions imposed on Russia.
“This is beginning to resemble the theater of the absurd because everything essential that needs to be done with regard to implementing the Minsk Agreements is the responsibility of the current Kiev authorities.”
Putin drew attention to a clause in the peace agreement that required Ukraine to introduce constitutional reform by the end of last year, calling this “the main, the key issue in the settlement process”.
The leaders of France and Germany, he added, “should scrutinize these matters more thoroughly”.
On the economic front, Putin acknowledged that the country’s economy had been hard hit by the plunge in oil prices but also said that there was a positive side insofar as it would force Russia to improve the structure of its public finances.
“I believe that our non-oil and gas deficit had risen to a very dangerous level. So now we are forced to lower it. And this is healthy,” he said.
“It is very difficult ... to resist spending oil and gas revenues to cover current expenses. (But) it is the reduction of these expenses that improves the economy.”
Editing by Jason Bush and Greg Mahlich