Five key points from Russian president Vladimir Putin's four-hour news conference
The Russian president also dismissed the impeachment process against Donald Trump as “far-fetched” and said he was “very happy” at ever-closer ties with Belarus.
He spoke on a variety of issues during his traditional end-of-year appearance. Some 2,000 journalists were registered to attend, but few were lucky enough to be called to ask a question.
Here are five of the key points from Thursday’s news conference, which lasted more than four hours.
Putin on Trump
Putin said US President Donald Trump was impeached for “far-fetched” reasons, calling the move by Democrats a continuation of their fight against the Republican leader. He also predicted the move would fail.
"[Impeachment] has yet to pass the Senate, where Republicans have a majority, and they will be unlikely to remove a representative of their own party from office on what seems to me an absolutely far-fetched reason in my opinion.
“It's just the continuation of the political in-fighting, and one of the parties that lost the elections — the Democratic party — is trying alternative means to get the results by accusing Trump of colluding with Russia.”
Putin on climate change
The triggers behind global climate change are hard to predict, Russia’s president said — but he admitted global warming could be “a disaster” for the country’s icy north.
“It is very difficult, if not impossible, to work out exactly how humankind affects climate change. But we cannot stay idle either … we should make our best efforts to prevent dramatic changes in the climate.
"As for our country, this process is very crucial for us. The temperature in Russia is rising 2.5 times faster than the planet’s average. As you know, Russia is a northern country, and 70 per cent of our territory is located in the north latitudes. Some of our cities were built north of the Arctic Circle, on the permafrost. If it begins to thaw, you can imagine what consequences it would have. It would be a disaster.”
Putin on Russia’s Olympic ban for doping
Putin said sanctions announced by the world doping agency contradicted "common sense and the law".
The WADA sanctions announced on December 9 ban the use of the Russian team name, flag or anthem at a range of major sports competitions over the next four years, including next year's Olympics.
“As for WADA and its decisions, I believe that they are not only unjust but also defy common sense and are illegal.
“Any sanctions must target specific, individual breaches. If someone was caught doing something illegal, sanctions are natural and fair. But if an overwhelming majority of Russian athletes are clean, how can they be sanctioned for someone else’s actions?”
Putin on Ukraine
Putin warned that the peace process in eastern Ukraine would “hit a dead end” if Ukraine’s president changed earlier agreements.
“If we revise the Minsk Agreements, the settlement process will hit a dead end, because the main element of the Minsk Agreements is a law on the special status of Donbass, which must be formalised in the Ukrainian Constitution.
“There must be a direct dialogue with Donbass. There is none so far. It has been announced that amendments concerning decentralisation will be made. This is good. But is this meant to replace the Minsk Agreements? Or the law on the special status of Donbass?”
Putin on Belarus
The Russian leader said it would be a "mistake" to "run ahead" and set dates for creating a union state with Belarus, while maintaining that he was "very happy with the fact that we are becoming closer".
Russia and Belarus signed a union agreement in 1997 that envisaged close political, economic and military ties, but stopped short of forming a single nation.
The Kremlin has recently cranked up the pressure on the neighbouring nation of 10 million, raising energy prices and cutting subsidies.
Some in Belarus fear new agreements could pave the way for a full merger of the two countries, concerns fueled by Russia's 2014 annexation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula.
There also has been speculation that Putin, who has been in power for nearly two decades, could contemplate a merger with Belarus as a way to stay at the helm of the new union state of Russia and Belarus after his current Russian presidential term expires in 2024.
"I still believe that we should not change the constitution,” he said.