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Putin no 'tsar'

Putin no tsar

Russian President Vladimir Putin said he and US President Donald Trump "regularly talk over the phone" and that the pair work well together in the fight against international terrorism, but suggested a formal summit between the two was not imminent despite mounting speculation. Speaking to Austrian television channel ORF, Putin said he "fully agreed" with Trump on the possibility that a new arms race between the countries could break out and hoped the two leaders could work together to prevent it. When asked why there had been no US-Russia bilateral summit since Trump became President, Putin said he had met Trump more than once at international events but signalled that there were no immediate plans for a formal meeting. "I think that the possibility of these meetings depends on the internal political situation in the United States," Putin said. "The congressional election campaign is getting underway and then there will be the next Presidential election and the President of the United States is coming under attack over various matters."

Trump and Putin had spoken over the phone eight times, according to readouts distributed by the White House. They have met in person twice, once at a formal bilateral meeting in Germany and once on the sidelines of a leaders' summit in Vietnam. It is interesting that Putin is well up with all that is happening in the US. And this, at a time when Special Counsel Mueller is busy investigating who were involved colluding with Russia during the 2016 Presidential elections. Several Russian oligarchs keep getting asked by the media how much if at all, they had paid some of the individuals who had or are likely to face summons from Mueller. Putin has never ever spoken on the matter and it is hardly likely that he ever will.

His visit to Austria, his first foreign trip since his re-election in March, is seen by some as a move to provoke. After all, the Far Right has taken over the reins. Their taking over inspired some young Germans who managed to grab 13 per cent of the total votes and made it very difficult for Chancellor Angela Merkel to form a coalition with the Social Democrats who were in a position to set the terms for a government to be formed. The Austrian Far Right also stood out for showing its support and understanding for Russia at a time when most Western powers were busy expelling diplomats and ordering them back to Moscow. Austria did nothing of the kind. This visit of Putin, therefore, has also been his way of recognising the gesture and showing his gratitude. Precisely what ramifications this will have in the long run remains to be seen, but Austria could always do with a powerful friend. For his part, Putin said that the EU sanctions "are hurtful to all, those who initiate the measures and those who they are targeted against," but insisted that Russia has "overcome all the difficulties associated with the external restrictions."

Interestingly, Putin dismissed claims that the Russian leadership is seeking to maintain links with nationalist parties in Europe in a bid to sow division on the continent. "It is not our aim to divide anything or anybody in Europe. On the contrary, we want to see a united and prosperous European Union, because the EU is our biggest trade and economic partner. The more problems there are within the European Union, the greater the risks and uncertainties for us." Putin also rejected the accusation, prompted by his 18 continuous years spent either as President or Prime Minister of Russia, that he is a 'tsar.' "It is not true. It is false and completely detached from reality because Russia is a democracy and we all live under the constitution," he said.

However, when asked if he will remain in power as Prime Minister after his current Presidential term ends in 2024, which the constitution dictates must be his last as President, Putin did not rule it out. Indeed, constitutional compulsions had him serve a term as Prime Minister once upon a time with his friend, Medvedev, as the President. But that is only to be expected from one who had never expected to reach such dizzy heights of power and for such a long time since the days when he was a mere KGB agent in the last days of the erstwhile Soviet Union. In some way or another, having got used to so much power, it is but natural that he would always love to be in a position from where he can always call the shots.

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