After the Astana Summit, Russian President Vladimir Putin gave a briefing where he answered all the “burning questions” of recent days: should we expect a new wave of mobilization? How many branches of Nord Stream are left in service? Does he regret the start of the special military operation in Ukraine? What does the Kremlin expect from the grain deal?
Turkish hub for Russian gas
The summit in the capital of Kazakhstan was marked with sensational decisions. It will just suffice to mention the announcement of the creation of a powerful gas hub in Turkey to replace Nord Streams in supply of gas to Europe.
For a start, Vladimir Putin made it clear that he considers Central Asia to be very promising for Russia.
“We are developing new logistics chains that largely run through this region. The countries of the region are interested in this. Finally, new opportunities arise in terms of cooperation. In terms of developing our own competencies. We are now looking at how to reanimate some enterprises that have long gone into oblivion. We can do it on a completely new technological basis. It can be done also in Central Asia. Both for us and our partners,” Putin said.
Further, the Russian president actually avoided answering Interfax's question about how the special military operation in Ukraine has affected relations with neighboring countries and the former Soviet republics (“Has the unity in the CIS somehow strengthened, remained at the same level, or are there any negative trends?”)
Meanwhile, there is such a problem, because the post-Soviet elites “try on” the situation of military conflict between the former USSR and the RSFSR.
“As you can see, all of this [summits at the highest level as in Astana] is going on. All these formats work. It means that they are in demand, and our allies, our partners want to work in such formats. Nothing changes in this regard. Here we pay attention to some of the events related to the relations between Azerbaijan and Armenia, to what is going on between Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. We are all well aware of this. Of course, the partners are interested and concerned about the future development of relations in the Russian-Ukrainian direction. But this is a subject of discussion. This is true, there is nothing unexpected here. I inform our partners about this in detail. I tell them our point of view but this does not affect the nature, quality, or depth of Russia's relations with these countries,” Putin said.
The spokesperson of the Rossiya 1 channel wanted to talk about Germany's role in the Ukrainian conflict because “Scholz, as they say, has cast prudence to the winds.” According to the journalist, now “Russian people are being killed again with German guns.”
Vladimir Putin responded that decisions on the political course of Germany should be made by German politicians, who have taken responsibility for the fate of the country.
According to him, German politicians chose the second one between the interests of the country and Euro-Atlantic solidarity.
“I believe that this is a mistake. Business, the economy, and the citizens of the Federal Republic are paying for this mistake, because it has negative economic consequences for the euro-zone as a whole and for the Federal Republic in particular,” Putin said.
In the case of Germany, the subject of Nord Stream looked very relevant, so Vladimir Putin could not help but take advantage of it.
“Apparently, its interests are not considered by many. Otherwise, they would not have undermined Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2. Even though they didn't work, there was a kind of an element of reliability. In a pinch they could have been turned on but now it is not possible,” said Putin.
Immediately afterwards, the Russian leader announced the sensational information that one branch of Nord Stream is still capable of pumping gas.
“Although there is one branch there, as I said in Moscow, apparently, it is still in working order. However, there is also no decision. It seems unlikely to be made. This is no longer our business. This is the business of our partners,” Putin said.
An RT journalist asked Putin to comment on rumors that “Ankara is trying to organize talks between Moscow and Western countries, France and Germany, in Istanbul.”
The Russian president was again reluctant to give any specifics but he smoothly hinted that “Erdogan is not the only one.” According to him, not only Turkey but also such country as UAE may claim to be a mediator.
Putin thanked Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in absentia for both his help in the prisoner exchange and his participation in the grain deal.
“He really got personally involved in this work. As you know, it was effective. We are grateful to him for that too, because we got our soldiers, our officers,” the Russian president said.
He added that Erdoğan is not the only mediator, because “of course, the United Arab Emirates is also ready to play a mediating role,” and “the President of the United Arab Emirates is engaged in these issues, including humanitarian issues such as exchanges. It was not unsuccessful, for which we are also grateful.”
Putin went on to openly poke fun at Zelensky and official Kiev in general, saying that the Kremlin was ready to negotiate, while Kiev is being on the dodge.
“They kept saying that they wanted negotiations and kind of asked for it. Now they have made an official decision that forbids negotiations. Well, what is there to talk about here? I, for my part, as you know, speaking at the Kremlin when making the decision on the subjects of the federation, said that we were open for it. We have always said that we are open,” said the President of the Russian Federation.
“We even reached certain agreements in Istanbul. These agreements were in fact almost initialed. As soon as the troops withdrew from Kiev, the Kiev authorities immediately lost the desire to negotiate. That is the whole story. But if they are ready for that, then, please. Then the mediation efforts of all those who are interested in this may be required,” said Putin.
However, the Russian leader did not say that judging by the statements of Russian top officials, the negotiations and the special military operation are separate. In a nutshell, Russia solves its problems with the special military operation, but at the same time does not abandon negotiations with Zelensky. At the same time, as we recall from past speeches by the Russian president, the fate of Ukraine's former regions is no longer being discussed with Kiev. The Donetsk, Zaporozhye, Lugansk, and Kherson regions are now subjects of the Russian Federation. “Forever,” as Vladimir Putin put it in the Kremlin's St. George's Hall during the ceremony of admitting the new subjects to the Russian Federation.
The fate of the remaining Ukraine the Russian elite, led by Putin, is ready to discuss. They are ready to demonstrate their willingness to negotiate as long as there is anything left of Ukraine at all.
On the other hand, such a position is understandable. Before that, there was a neither-here-nor-there history of the Minsk agreements, which Kiev blatantly failed to comply with, while Paris and Berlin, which acted as guarantors in 2015, pretended that this was the right thing to do. So, it went for seven years during which time the North Atlantic Alliance entered Russia's borders, gaining access to Ukrainian territory, sea and airspace as a springboard.
Go to Washington and ask Biden
Another burning question came from the audience whether Putin was going to the G20 summit to be held in Indonesia and whether he was ready to hold talks with US President Joe Biden there.
The Russian president smiled and advised the journalist to ask Biden if he was ready to negotiate with Putin. However, the Russian leader immediately got serious and said that in the case of Biden, “there is no platform for any negotiations yet.”
Indeed, in case anyone has forgotten, on the eve of the special military operation, Russian leaders held several rounds of talks with Western officials and politicians about security guarantees, but to no avail. What is the point of dropping a bucket into an empty well again? When you go into negotiations, especially with Biden, you need a strong position. A strong position depends on the situation ‘on the ground,’ where only recently there has been an ‘organized regrouping’ of Russian troops near Kharkov, while in other parts of the front a positional war continues without any loud successes, but without painful defeats as well.
As for participation in the G-20 summit, according to Putin, “The issue of my trip there has not yet been definitively decided. Russia will certainly take part.”
The Channel One journalist seemed to specifically draw attention to the FSB report that the explosive device that the terrorists used to blow up the Crimean bridge was originally sent by sea from Odessa. In this connection, the question arose as to “whether this terrorist act would ruin the grain deal,” since the agreement was to transport grain, not explosives, especially to blow up such an iconic structure as the Crimean bridge.
Vladimir Putin did not rush to judgment and referred to the FSB, which “stated that it is likely that the so-called cargo, explosives, explosives were sent by sea from Odessa. But it is not exactly established with the help of grain carriers or not.”
“That's the question. There is no answer to it yet,” the Russian president said.
At the same time, according to Putin, if it turns out that humanitarian corridors are being used for terrorist attacks, it will “put a big question mark on the further functioning of this corridor.”
In general, the Russian president has made it clear that the Kremlin will play a “fork combination” depending on the behavior of the UN and the collective West will decide on the fate of the grain deal. If Western countries continue to block Russian grain exports, it will suddenly be discovered that terrorists have used a grain carrier from Odessa to transport explosives. If the “Iron Curtain” on Russian exports can be dismantled, the Kremlin is not in the mood to put the issue to the test and cancel the grain deal because of its involvement in the terrorist attack on the Crimean bridge.
“The answer is simple. Let's just shut it down and be done with it. But we must first establish this reliably, and there is no reliable information,” said Putin.
The Russian leader also commented on the scandalous case where police detained a man in Moscow for listening to Ukrainian music. “Well, how can we ban their language and culture? We don't even have that in our thoughts. Culture has nothing to do with it at all!” Putin said indignantly.
White Acacia Flowers of Mobilization
Partial mobilization is one of the hottest topics in recent days. A journalist from Izvestia had the honor of asking about the problems associated with partial mobilization and the Kremlin's further mobilization plans.
Vladimir Putin reassured everyone who was overly agitated by saying bluntly that “nothing additional is planned. We haven't received any proposals to this effect from the Ministry of Defense.”
According to the President, the “mess” is “connected with the old forms of registration, which have not been renewed for decades.”
“That's when these mobilization activities began, only then did it become clear what quality they were. This information base is being updated now, on a modern basis, on a modern basis, it will be as reliable as possible. I believe that the quality will also be improved. This work is already coming to an end. To my thinking, within about two weeks, all the mobilization operations will be completed. There are 222,000 people mobilized out of 300,000 who are undergoing mobilization in the troops,” Putin said.
The Rossiya 1 reporter began by reminding everyone present that everyone is in Kazakhstan, where so many people from Russia left after the announcement of partial mobilization.
As for the question of how he himself relates to those who left Russia because of partial mobilization, Vladimir Putin said that in each case it is necessary to give a specific legal assessment. Except that Putin did not specify that a legal assessment of the evaders will be given by the competent authorities, and they can so deal with it that no one will be satisfied. If one thinks about it, the president has already demonstrated his personal attitude because it was Vladimir Putin who as the Commander-in-Chief made the decision to partially mobilize.
Argumenty i Fakty's correspondent asked how it happened that not even three weeks after the announcement of the partial mobilization, the first dead from among the mobilized people had already been killed.
“33,000 mobilized people are already in units. 16,000 are in units involved in combat missions,” said the Russian leader. “If such questions arise,” Vladimir Putin promised to instruct the National Security Council to conduct an inspection of how the mobilized are trained.
Careless Talk Costs Lives
But in response to an additional question from AiF about what security measures are now in place at railway stations, airports, gas pipelines, and other infrastructure facilities, Vladimir Putin replied in as general a manner as possible, “after the terrorist attack on the Crimean bridge, the relevant services were instructed to increase control in order to ensure the security of all critical infrastructure facilities.”
Indeed, as the old saying goes, careless talk costs lives.
Kommersant's journalist Andrei Kolesnikov asked whether Ukraine will survive as a state. “The second question, Mr.President, do you regret anything?” he asked.
Vladimir Putin answered the second question first, explaining that, from his point of view, the decision to start the special military operation would not have been avoided anyway.
“No. I want it to be clear. What is going on today is not pleasant, to put it mildly. But this is all the same thing we would get later. Only in worse conditions for us. So, my actions are correct and timely,” said Putin.
When he heard the answer, Kolesnikov became agitated and began to exclaim, apparently afraid that the press conference would end and the whole world would never know whether the Ukrainian state would still exist or not.
Strangely enough, as a member of the Kremlin pool he must have known that Vladimir Putin, who came from the special services, is accustomed not to reveal his plans until they are fully realized. Therefore, the Russian president did his best to reassure journalist Kolesnikov, but did not voice his real plans.
“We did not set out to destroy Ukraine,” said the president. Then Putin reminded that 2 million 400 thousand people live in Crimea, and the Kiev authorities “cut off the water.”
“The troops had to go in and open the water to Crimea. Here's just an example of the logic of our actions. Had they not done this action here, there would have been no others, the counteraction would have been,” said Putin.
Another journalist broke into the conversation, recalling that Russian troops “carried out massive strikes on the territory of Ukraine.” Vladimir Putin reassured everyone, saying “there is no need for massive strikes right now.”
However, Putin immediately clarified that there is no need only for massive strikes, but there is even a need for one-time strikes.
“There are other tasks now because, in my opinion, 7 out of 29 sites were not hit as the Defense Ministry had planned. But they are getting those targets gradually, the Russian president said.
“There is no need for massive strikes. Well, at least for now,” Putin said in conclusion.