At a meeting with senior officials on Thursday, President Vladimir Putin said Russia had no intention of punishing the West for the sanctions imposed over Moscow’s role in Ukraine, and said instead they had challenged Russia to strengthen its economy, boost competition and spur lending.
“In taking responsive measures, we first of all think about our own interests regarding the task of development and protecting our producers and markets from unfair competition,” Putin said.
“And our main goal is to use one of Russia’s main competitive advantages – a large domestic market, and to fill it with high-quality goods produced by our nation’s firms.”
The Ukraine crisis has plunged ties between the West and Russia to their lowest since the Cold War, and Putin criticised countries that imposed sanctions for violating the spirit of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), which he said was fair and free economic competition.
Russia joined the WTO in 2012 after 18 years of on-and-off negotiations on the terms of its entry.
Countries enforcing trade sanctions do not have to justify them at the WTO unless they are challenged in a trade dispute. Justifications for restricting trade can range from environmental and health reasons to religious scruples.
But some diplomats fear that wide-ranging sanctions against Russia could only be explained by national security concerns. That would be a legitimate argument, but one that has never been invoked in a WTO dispute and could unravel mutual trust.
EU silent on Putin threats
The European Union (EU) on Thursday refused to confirm a report that Putin warned Ukraine’s leader that Russian troops could invade eastern European capitals within two days if ordered.
The German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung reported that Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko told European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso during a meeting last Friday that Putin had made the threat in a recent conversation.
“If I wanted, Russian troops could not only be in Kiev in two days, but in Riga, Vilnius, Tallinn, Warsaw or Bucharest, too,” the paper quoted Putin as saying, citing an account of the Barroso-Poroshenko meeting given by the EU diplomatic service.
EU Commission spokesperson Pia Ahrenkilde Hansen told journalists when asked about the report: “We will not conduct diplomacy in the media or discuss extracts of what are confidential conversations.”
Putin has reportedly made similar threats in the last month.
Italy’s La Repubblica newspaper said Barroso had told EU leaders at a summit in August that Putin said to him in a telephone conversation: “If I wanted I could take Kiev in two weeks.”
The Kremlin said the alleged remarks in August had been taken out of context, while the EU declined to comment. – Reuters, AFP