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EDITIONS
Tuesday, 25 June, 2002, 17:04 GMT 18:04 UK
Putin faces the media
Russian President Vladimir Putin
Mr Putin - confident with the media
President Putin addressed a number of domestic and foreign policy issues in a wide-ranging news conference lasting over two hours in the Kremlin.

On domestic policy, the main task which Russia is now facing is the development of Russia's economy and an improvement in living standards," Mr Putin said.

Russia, previously an adversary of the overwhelming majority of developed countries, has to turn into a partner, a fully-fledged and equal partner.

Middle East

The conflicts and problems of the Middle East, Mr Putin said, "must be tackled on the basis of the majority decisions taken at the UN [United Nations], and it is on this basis that the untying of the Middle East knot must proceed".

Russia, he said, "condemns any manifestations of terrorism, and it is our view that the Palestinian leadership must do everything in its power to ensure the cessation of terrorist activities in the region, an unconditional cessation".

At the same time, he warned, it would be "dangerous and a mistake" to exclude Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat from the political arena "because in our view that would lead to the radicalization of the Palestinian movements."

Trade

On trade, Mr Putin said the export sector of Russia's economy favoured entry to the World Trade Organization (WTO) because that "removes all restrictions and barriers for the development of their business".

"Those who believe that they are not competitive enough are fearful, and some are even completely opposed, because they believe that the arrival of cheap but good-quality Western goods will undermine their future," he said.

"Today, Russia is the only one of the great world economies that's not a member of the WTO - the only one."

"Economic conflicts, however, must not be allowed to turn into political conflicts, confrontation and trade wars," he said.

"What this means is that any such issues must be resolved in a consistent and persistent fashion through a process of negotiations."

Rise of the Right

Mr Putin said that the current lurch to the right in a number of European countries was linked to distortions in domestic policies.

"I think the other political forces in Western Europe will draw conclusions from what's happening in connection with a certain move to the right."

He ruled out the possibility of this happening in Russia.

"To begin with, Russia is not France. It's a different country in a different situation."

Although he said he did not want to be judgemental, he found the root of the problem in the distortion of certain human values.

"Somehow underneath universal human values individual people in individual countries get forgotten and this produces these results and distortions," he said. "As for Russia, I can't see that this is a threat."

Kaliningrad

"We are in favour of developing relations with the European Union," the Russian president said.

"We are part of Europe ourselves and very much expect that the expansion of the European Union will lead to further deepening of our cooperation with our partners in Europe, in Eastern Europe, as well as in Western and Central Europe."

He brushed aside fears that the leadership's views on Kaliningrad might change.

"We will never agree to decisions that, by their very nature, would destroy sovereign Russian territory," he said. "And introducing special conditions of some kind for Kaliningrad would undoubtedly have that effect."

Nato

Moscow's view on the eastward expansion of Nato had not changed, Mr Putin said.

"We don't think that Nato expansion will enhance anyone's security. Neither that of countries intending to join Nato, nor that of the organisation itself. "

"But I think it would be a tactical and strategic mistake to obstruct Estonia's entry into Nato. If Estonia wants to join, then let it. If it thinks that is best for it. I don't see it as any kind of tragedy," the Russian leader said.

"Estonia's entitled to do it. And I don't think it should damage relations between Russia and Estonia."

Chechnya

Mr Putin said the conflict in Chechnya should not be blamed on the Chechen people, but on deficiencies in the Russian state which, he said, had "proved to be unable to protect the interests of the Chechen people".

"Of course, fanatics, extremists and destructive elements of every kind took advantage of this," he said.

"The Chechens were, as so many times before in history, used as a living shield."

Georgia

Referring to the presence of terrorists in the Pankisi Gorge, Putin said it was only by working with Russia that Georgia could tackle this problem.

"There is a solution, but it cannot be uncoupled from co-operation with Russia," the Russian leader said.

"Nobody, not US special troops and not Georgia's own trained units, can solve the problem of terrorists in the Pankisi gorge without the direct and active involvement of Russia's special forces and units of the Russian army."

"The solution will only come when public opinion and the leadership in Georgia itself understands this and is ready for such action."

Crime

Mr Putin said crime was rooted in social and political problems, and it would not be fair to put all the blame for problems in fighting crime on the country's law-enforcement agencies.

"Fighting crime requires comprehensive measures to be taken by the state during quite a long period. You cannot achieve everything at once."

Mr Putin said that he tried to stay in touch with the common people despite the isolation imposed by his position.

"My considerable advantage is that - no offence meant to my colleagues - I have always felt and, I believe, still feel very well the worries of an average Russian citizen."

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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