Russian President Vladimir Putin defends bailout for Ukraine
Russian President Vladimir Putin has said maintaining close links with Ukraine is vital for Russian national interests.
“We just want to defend our gates,” he told journalists in Moscow, days after Russia gave Ukraine a $15bn (£9.2bn; 10.9bn euros) bailout and gas discount.
Ukraine, he said, was a fraternal state with close industrial ties to Russia.
Protests have gripped much of Ukraine since President Viktor Yanukovych suspended the EU deal last month.
The opposition has been demanding to know what, if any, conditions the Kremlin attached to its decision to buy $15bn in Ukrainian government bonds and slash the gas price from more than $400 per 1,000 cubic metres to $268.5.
Russia’s financial help averted a debt crisis for Ukraine in the short term.
Mr Putin is known for his marathon, tough-talking annual news conferences, which can run past four hours.
On other issues addressed on Thursday, he
denied any decision had been taken yet to deploy nuclear-capable Iskander missiles in Russia’s westernmost region, Kaliningrad, which borders the EU, despite earlier reports
denied that Russia was controlling Edward Snowden, the former US National Security Agency contractor granted asylum in Russia after leaking details of its work, and joked that espionage was “one of the oldest professions… of which there are few”
accused the Greenpeace Arctic Sunrise detainees of being publicity-seekers but said it would be “good” if they were released under a new Russian amnesty
“We always say seriously that Ukraine for us is a fraternal country,” Mr Putin said.
“And in a difficult situation, we are always ready to support a fraternal people. I assure you, that is the only objective reason [for the financial aid].”
“We cannot leave our economy unprotected if Ukraine joins the association [agreement],” Mr Putin said.
He gave as an example of close industrial relations the fact that “nearly 100%” of helicopter engines for Russia’s armed forces were manufactured in Ukraine.
Ukraine, he argued, would not find a market for the engines elsewhere. The EU, he suggested, was only interested in Ukraine as an “agricultural appendage”.
Ukraine, the Russian president said, would need investment of hundreds of billions of dollars to bring its economy up to EU standards.