Putin: nothing should impede Russia-West ties

The Russian president’s remark contrasted with weeks of hostilities with the U.S. and EU over Ukraine

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Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday said nothing should hinder the normalization of relations between Russia and the West, after ties hit a low after the Moscow’s standoff with post-revolution Ukraine, while neighboring Poland announced that U.S. ground forces will be sent to their country in an expansion of NATO’s presence.

“It [normalizing relations] does not depend on us. Or does not only depend on us. It depends on our partners,” Putin said in transcripts released by Russian news agencies from a state television interview to be broadcast later on Saturday, Agence France-Presse reported.


The Russian president’s remark, which contrasted with weeks of hostilities on both sides, came after talks between Russia, Ukraine and the West on Thursday in which an agreement was forged on initial steps to ease Ukraine’s crisis.

“I think that there is nothing that should stand in the way of a normalization and normal cooperation,” he added.

New NATO chief

He also added that NATO’s choosing of former Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenburg as its new head, saying that the pair had good relations but that it was up to the West to improve ties.

Russian-NATO relations are their worst point since the Cold War, after Moscow’s seizure of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula, a move Putin said was partly influenced by NATO’s expansion into eastern Ukraine.

“We have very good relations, including personal relations. This is a very serious, responsible person,” Putin said of Stoltenburg, according to a pre-transmission transcript provided to news outlets of an interview to be broadcasted on state-run TV later on Saturday, Reuters reported.

“But let’s see how he will develop relations in his new capacity,” the president added.

Later on Saturday, Poland’s defense minister said U.S. ground forces will be sent to his country to expand NATO’s presence there as events unfold in neighboring Ukraine, The Washington Post reported.

Tomasz Siemoniak told the Post Friday that details were already being worked out and that Poland would play a leading regional role “under U.S. patronage” in the plan expected to be announced next week.

Earlier, a majority of inhabitants in Ukraine’s pro-Russian protest hub Donetsk do not wish to join Russia but consider the government in Kiev to be illegitimate, according to a recent poll, AFP reported.

Donetsk unrest

52.2 percent of people questioned in the region in eastern Ukraine, the focal point of separatist unrest that has seen pro-Russian militants seize a string of towns, said they were against joining Russia while 27.5 percent favored rule from Ukraine’s former Soviet master Moscow.

Among the 3,200 respondents across Ukraine’s entire Russian-speaking southeast, the number of those opposed to Moscow taking control rose to 69.7 percent, according to the poll from Kiev’s Institute for International Sociology published in the Russian-language Weekly Mirror newspaper.

In the Donetsk region, where separatists have declared an independent republic and demanded a referendum on autonomy, 38.4 percent said they backed Kremlin demands to federalize Ukraine and 41 percent said they wanted a decentralization of power.

Inhabitants in the east remain highly suspicious of Kiev’s interim authorities, who took over from pro-Moscow president Viktor Yanukovich after his ouster in February following months of bloody protests.

Some 74 percent of respondents said they consider acting President Oleksandr Turchynov to be illegitimate, the poll said.

(With AFP and Reuters)

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