Putin: interview over a glass of champagne

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Russia’s Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has met with journalists at a traditional informal meeting which is held to discuss issues of concern over a cup of tea or a glass of champagne.

Russia’s Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has met with journalists at a traditional informal meeting which is held to discuss issues of concern over a cup of tea or a glass of champagne.

The issues that took center stage included the relationship between the president and the prime minister, Russian-American relations, prospects for Russia’s membership in the WTO and the position of the ruble. Vladimir Putin offered a toast to journalists. One of the first questions shot at him over a glass of champagne was when he will say for sure whether he’ll run for presidency in 2012. To the great disappointment of those asking, the prime minister replied that it was too early to think about that. He reaffirmed, however, that he and President Medvedev would pass a joint decision on this issue.

Prime Minister Putin described the signing of the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty as the success of President Medvedev’s foreign policy and a significant step towards better relations between Russia and the rest of the world.

"A favorable foreign environment is crucial for sustainable domestic development," the prime minister said.

When asked whether Russia trusts the US more following the signing of the START Treaty, the prime minister made it clear that there is definitely more trust between the two countries now but there is still room to strengthen it further.

In the outgoing year, the United States, the European Union and other top economies have said their final yes to Russia’s membership in the WTO. Prime Minister Putin warns, however, that Russia’s accession to the WTO may run into hurdles.

Russia has been in such lengthy talks over its accession to the WTO that it’s hard to imagine what can stand in the way now. Everything has been settled. But you can always make it difficult if you set your mind to it.

The formation of the Customs Union with Kazakhstan and Belarus have prompted Russia’s foreign partners to seek its membership in the WTO at an early date, the prime minister said. The Union is structured along the rules employed by the WTO, so it didn’t take our partners long to understand that Russia can easily do without it.

"A free ruble exchange rate on the currency market is one of the government’s top priorities for the future," Vladimir Putin said. When the ruble will start its free floating depends on how fast the Russian economy will progress in its development. The prime minister did not rule out interventions on the part of the Central Bank in case of sharp fluctuations of the ruble. "Russia had spent part of its gold and hard currency reserves to support the ruble during the recent economic crunch. The reserves are currently being replenished," the prime minister said. Russia’s gold and hard currency reserves are the third largest after China and Japan.