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Last Updated: Thursday, 23 December, 2004, 17:10 GMT
Excerpts from Putin's news conference
Russian President Vladimir Putin
Mr Putin's spoke to the media for three hours

Russian President Vladimir Putin was outspoken on a range of international and domestic issues at his annual media conference in the Kremlin on Thursday.

He reiterated his backing for the purchase of oil giant Yukos' main asset by a state-owned oil firm.

He also mounted a vigorous defence of Russia's foreign policy, praised the country's economic progress, and pledged that reforms would continue.

Here are excerpts from the three-hour-long event.

On the sale of key Yukos asset Yuganskneftegaz

In my view, everything was done entirely by the methods of the market. As I have said - I think it was at a news conference in Germany - state companies, or more precisely, companies with 100% state capital, have a right to this, just like any other market players. It turns out they have exercised that right. What I would like to say in this connection is that you all know perfectly well what happened with privatisation in the early 1990s. You know how, by using various ruses, including those in breach of the legislation then in force, many market players at the time obtained state property worth many billions. Today, the state, using entirely legal market mechanisms, is securing its interests. I find this entirely normal.

On a US court injunction blocking the sale of Yuganskneftegaz

You know, when I read the ruling of a Texas court in which the judge suggests Russia postpone the Yuganskneftegaz auction, I find it somewhat surprising. I am not at all sure if the lady knows where Russia is on the globe. I also have some doubts as to her professional qualifications... It [the US court ruling] is totally unacceptable from the point of view of international law. It runs counter to so-called international civility, which is not a moral but a legal category in private international law.

On Ukraine's presidential election

We will work with any leader in Ukraine, but we do not expect there to be any people in the entourage of [opposition candidate] Viktor Yushchenko who construct their political ambitions on anti-Russian slogans.

On relations with the US

The United States is one of our high-priority partners. We happen to be natural partners in resolving several acute problems at present, especially combating terrorism... I would describe our relationship not as a partnership but as an alliance.

On US policy

I repeat, we were not going to annex anyone [in Ukraine], for one thing. Secondly, if this is to be read as a wish to limit Russia's opportunities to develop relations with its neighbours, it means a striving to isolate the Russian Federation. I do not believe this is the meaning of US policy. Of course, I'll be having a meeting with President Bush, it has been scheduled for the near future in the new year. I shall ask him whether this is so.

On elections in Iraq

We do not understand how there can be elections in a country under conditions of total occupation... It's absurd. It's a farce. Everything is upside down.

On Georgia and its breakaway region of Abkhazia

I wish to reiterate what in my view is the main and the most crucial thing for Georgia: we all support the preservation of Georgia's territorial integrity. We are working on this assumption. Yet Georgia itself isn't in the least interested in an internal armed conflict flaring up within Abkhazia. Whoever would want that? Is Georgia interested in that? Of course not. This is precisely our assumption. Our premise is not that we are working against Georgia by trying to settle the situation there. We are working to create conditions to resolve this complicated and contentious problem between Georgia and Abkhazia in the future.

On Poland

It seems to me that Poland itself has plenty to be getting on with. Unemployment there is running at 20% at the moment - I was saying that ours is 7.4% - well, in Poland it's 20%. In 1993, Poland's state debt stood at just over $47bn (34bn euros) or so. They then had 50% written off for political reasons. Poland has now run up more than 92bn euros in debt - which is over $100bn considering the exchange rate. You need to put home first, as the saying goes.

On relations with Japan

We are very upset that the issue of the peace treaty has not yet been resolved. It is in Japan's national interests as well as in Russia's national interests to clear up all problems that are hindering the development of our relations and do it as soon as possible. I am confident that Japan is no less interested in this than the Russian Federation.

On 2004

The year was far from easy, not only for our country, but for the world as a whole. We know about the tense situation in many of our planet's regions, not only in the Middle East and in Iraq, but also in other regions. But, despite all these disasters, the year is drawing to a close with a plus mark on the whole. However, virtually all of our citizens will undoubtedly remember grievous events, such as the tragedy in Beslan.

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

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