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     Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during annual news conference in Moscow, Russia December 20, 2018

    Putin: Russia Interested in Resuming Full-Fledged Relations With EU

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    ROME (Sputnik) - Russia is interested in restoring full-fledged relations with the European Union and is ready to work together with every political force supported by EU voters, Russian President Vladimir Putin said in an interview with the Italian Corriere della Sera daily, published on Thursday.

    "We are interested in restoring full-fledged relations between Russia and the European Union; in preserving peace; in ensuring security and stability on our common continent. We are ready for constructively working together with all political forces that have received mandates from European voters", Putin said in the interview, published in Italian.

    Russia Does Not Meddle in the Affairs of Other States 

    Moscow does not interfere in other states’ domestic affairs and this is the key characteristic distinguishing Russia from the United States and some of its allies, Putin said.

    "I would like to state this pretty clear. We have not meddled and do not plan to meddle in the internal affairs of EU countries nor other states of the world. This is our key difference from the United States and a number of its allies which, for example, supported the overthrow in Ukraine in February 2014", Putin noted.

    Putin observed that claims that Russia had allegedly meddled in US elections were "the height of absurdity." The president recalled that US Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into these allegations had "ended in nothing, in failure" as investigators had been unable to collect facts proving any meddling, since they did not exist.

    "The fact that the sanctions introduced against our country under the pretext of these allegations are still in force is interesting. The buzz around the Russian meddling in EU electoral processes is similar. [These allegations] were disseminated right ahead of the European Parliament elections. It seemed that there were some attempts to suggest to Europeans that it was the "evil Russian interference" that was behind low results of some political forces" at the elections, the president detailed.

    Those voicing these claims have sought to demonize Russia in the face of European citizens, Putin said.

    The Russian president stressed that his country is interested in resuming full-fledged relations with the European Union and is ready for further cooperation with all forces supported by EU voters to keep security and stability "on the continent".

    Russia Has the Political Will to Reach Arms Reduction Agreements with US

    Apart from EU-Russia relations, the Russian president also commented on recent developments around the new START treaty. According to Putin, Moscow sees no readiness from Washington to discuss a possible extension for the arms control treaty, adding that prospects of US-Russia cooperation in the sphere of strategic arms remain unclear.

    "The New START treaty expires in early 2021. We cannot see the United States’ readiness to discuss prolonging it or negotiating a new agreement", Putin argued.

    "The destruction of the international security system began after the United States unilaterally withdrew from the agreement on missile defense. It was a cornerstone of the whole arms control system", the president pointed out.

    Putin continued by suggesting a comparison between Russia’s defence spending (standing at $48 billion) and the US expenditure, saying that it surpassed $700 billion.

    "We have no intention to be engaged in such a race but we have to ensure our security … We have repeatedly offered the United States to clarify questions on the INF Treaty but we have always faced rejection. As a result, the United States is currently taking the other agreement apart", Putin argued.

    Putin also stressed that Russia, however, has the political will to reach an arms reduction agreement with the United States, adding that "the ball is now in the US court".

    "Reaching specific agreements in the area of arms control will help strengthen international stability. Russia has the political will for such work. Now the ball is in the United States’ court. I discussed this with President [of the United States, Donald] Trump during our recent meeting on the sidelines of the G20 [summit] in Japan", Putin said.

    The Russian president noted that in October 2018, Moscow offered to adopt a declaration with the United States stating the inadmissibility of a nuclear war and acknowledging its destructive consequences.

    "As of today, we have not received any reaction from the United States", Putin noted.

    The president argued, however, that Washington was beginning to consider relaunching its dialogue with Russia on a wide range of strategic issues.

    Moscow-Kiev Dialogue Possible

    In addition, President Putin said in an interview that Russia is ready to establish a constructive dialogue with Ukraine if its new president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, lives up to his campaign promises.

    "Yes, it is possible if Zelenskyy begins fulfilling his campaign promises", Putin said when asked if Zelenskyy’s presidential election victory had thawed Moscow-Kiev relations for the sake of settling the Donbass conflict and establishing a constructive dialogue between Russia and Ukraine.

    Putin recalled that during Zelenskyy's election campaign, the latter had promised "to establish direct contacts with his compatriots in Donbass and stop calling them separatists".

    The Russian leader emphasized that the new Ukrainian president inherited a "forced Ukranization; ban on using the Russian language [the native language for millions of Ukrainian citizens], including its use in Ukrainian schools and universities; fascism frenzy; civilian conflict in the southeast of the country; attempts by the former authorities to destroy the fragile interchurch world".

    "That is why I would like to reiterate that Ukrainian citizens expect Zelenskyy and his team not only to make statements, but perform specific actions and changes for the better, in short terms. Of course, the Kiev authorities should finally understand that the conflict between Russia and Ukraine is not in our mutual interest, unlike the development of a pragmatic cooperation based on trust and mutual understanding. We are ready for this", Putin said.

    Future Plans

    Vladimir Putin noted that he had five years of hard work ahead and it was too early to make forecasts about what he would do after his term expired in 2024.

    "It is still early to discuss this. There are five years of hard work ahead. Given the fast-moving international dynamics, which we can currently observe in the world, it is difficult to make forecasts. Believe me, I have things to do in the position where I am now," Putin told the newspaper when asked if he thought about what would happen to Russia after 2024 and if he planned to quit politics.

    Italian Bonds

    According to the Italian Corriere della Sera newspaper, Vladimir Putin, when asked if he had discussed the possibility of Italian government bonds purchase by Moscow during Conte's recent visit to Russia, said that Conte had not raised the issue.

    "We have not discussed this topic during Mr. Conte's visit to Moscow. As far as I know, we have not received any official request from Italy either," Putin said. 

    Putin to Hold Talks With Conte, Mattarella, Pope Francis

    Putin will visit Italy on Thursday to hold talks with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, President Sergio Mattarella and Pope Francis I over a wide range of issues.

    According to Kremlin aide Yury Ushakov, Putin's agenda during his visit will include Russia-EU cooperation, the Iranian nuclear program, Syria, Libya and Ukraine. In addition, Putin and Conte will attend a session of the Russian-Italian Civil Society Dialogue Forum.

    Putin will also meet with former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi as part of his visit to Rome, Ushakov noted, adding that this would be a purely friendly meeting and a continuation of informal contacts.

    A crucial point on Putin's agenda will be economic cooperation between Russia and Italy, Ushakov told journalists, adding that Moscow was concerned that Italian-Russian trade was failing to reach the level it saw before Europe imposed sanctions on Russia.

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    Vladimir Putin, cooperation, European Union, interview, Italy, Russia
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