Russian President Vladimir Putin called the U.S. impeachment process “far-fetched” Thursday, making a seemingly obvious prediction that Donald Trump will be acquitted in the Senate.
Putin said Thursday at his annual news conference in Moscow that the move is a continuation of the Democrats’ fight against Trump.
“The party that lost the (2016) election, the Democratic Party, is trying to achieve results by other means,” Putin said.
He likened Trump’s impeachment to the earlier U.S. probe into collusion with Russia, which Putin downplayed as being groundless.
Putin noted that the impeachment motion “is yet to pass the Senate where the Republicans have a majority.” He added that “they will be unlikely to remove a representative of their own party from office on what seems to me an absolutely far-fetched reason.”
Trump was impeached by the U.S. House of Representatives, becoming only the third American chief executive to be formally charged under the Constitution’s ultimate remedy for high crimes and misdemeanors.
The historic vote split along party lines Wednesday night in the U.S., much the way it has divided the nation, over a charge that the 45th president abused the power of his office by enlisting a foreign government to investigate a political rival ahead of the 2020 election. The House then approved a second charge, that he obstructed Congress in its investigation. The articles of impeachment, the political equivalent of an indictment, now go to the Senate for trial.
German extradition request
Turning to a spat with Germany over the killing of a Georgian citizen in Berlin in August, which German prosecutors alleged had been ordered by Moscow or authorities in the Russian province of Chechnya, Putin described the victim as a “bloodthirsty killer.” He said the man, an ethnic Chechen who was accused of being responsible for the killing of 98 people in just one raid in Russia’s North Caucasus and masterminding bombings on the Moscow subway system.
Russian officials have denied that Moscow had any relation to the killing,
Putin said that Russian law enforcement agencies had spoken to their German counterparts to demand the man’s extradition, but were given the cold shoulder and never sent a formal extradition request. He likened the victim to Islamic State group militants in custody in Turkey, some of whom come from Germany, France and other European nations.
“If those people come your way, will you like it?” Putin said. “Will you let them freely roam the streets like that?”
He argued that law enforcement agencies in Russia and Europe need to cooperate more closely to fend off terror threats.
Wide ranging news conference
Putin spoke on a variety of issues during the marathon news conference that was dominated by local issues, such as Russia’s ailing health care system and federal subsidies for the regions.
He opened it by warning about new challenges posed by global climate change, saying that global warming could threaten Russian Arctic cities and towns built on permafrost.
The Russian leader added that climate changes could trigger fires, devastating floods and other negative consequences.
Putin emphasized that Russia has abided by the Paris agreement intended to slow down global warming. At the same time, he noted that factors behind global climate change have remained unknown and hard to predict.
Putin, who has been in power for two decades, also hailed the economic achievements of his rule. He emphasized that Russia has become the world’s largest grain exporter, surpassing the U.S. and Canada — a dramatic change compared to the Soviet Union that heavily depended on grain imports.
The Russian leader also pointed at industry modernization, saying that three quarters of industrial equipment is no older than 12 years.
He said that the country has built three new airports, 12 new railway stations and the number of major highways has doubled.
The Russian economy had suffered a double blow of a drop in global oil prices and Western sanctions that followed Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Crimea. It has seen a slow recovery since 2017 after a two-year stagnation.
Relations with West
Russia’s ties with the West have remained at post-Cold War lows, but Putin argued that Russia has recovered and become more resilient to shocks from Western penalties and fluctuations in global energy prices.
Putin voiced hope for further moves to settle the conflict in eastern Ukraine following his talks in Paris on Dec. 9 with the leaders of Ukraine, France and Germany.
He said that the 2015 peace agreement signed in Minsk and brokered by France and Germany must be observed, rejecting Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s push for revising it.
The fighting in eastern Ukraine that flared up in 2014 after Russia’s annexation of Crimea has killed more than 14,000 and ravaged Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland.
The Minsk deal envisaged that Ukraine can regain control over the border with Russia in the separatist-held regions only after they are granted broad self-rule and hold local elections. The agreement was a diplomatic coup for Russia, ensuring that the rebel regions get a broad authority and resources to survive on their own without cross-border support.
Zelenskiy pushed for tweaking the timeline laid out in the accord so that Ukraine gets control of its border first before local elections are held, but Putin firmly rejected that.
“There is nothing but the Minsk agreement,” Putin said. “If we start revising the Minsk agreement, it will lead to deadlock.”
He said that Russia still hopes to negotiate a new gas deal with Ukraine that will allow his country to maintain transit shipments of gas to Europe via Ukrainian territory. The Russian leader noted that Moscow would be ready to continue pumping gas via Ukraine even though the new prospective Nord Stream 2 pipeline under the Baltic Sea is expected to come online next year.
Putin, who once lamented the breakup of the Soviet Union as the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century, had some harsh words to say about Soviet founder Vladimir Lenin.
He lambasted Lenin’s policies on ethnic issues, saying that his idea to grant broad autonomy to ethnic-based Soviet republics, including their right to secede, paved way for the Soviet breakup once the Communist Party’s hold on power started to loosen.
At the same time, Putin rejected the push for taking Lenin’s embalmed body out of the Red Square tomb and burying it, saying that it would offend older people who still see the Soviet founder as a powerful symbol.
He noted that the Soviet demise spawned expectations of a “unipolar world” in which the U.S. dictates terms to others, adding that such “illusions” quickly collapsed. Putin said that China has come to challenge the U.S. as the global economic powerhouse and hailed increasingly close ties between Moscow and Beijing.
Putin, whose current term runs through 2024, remained coy about his political future. He wouldn’t answer if he could potentially extend his rule by shifting into a new governing position to become the head of a Russia-Belarus union.
He left the door open to amending the Russian Constitution, such as changing the powers of the president and the Cabinet, but noted that changes must be made carefully after a broad pubic discussion.