Putin Calls Trump Impeachment Grounds ‘Spurious’: Russia Update

(Bloomberg) — Russian President Vladimir Putin is holding his annual press conference with more than 1,000 reporters from around the country and the world.Key Developments:Putin denounced the impeachment of U.S. President Donald Trump as “spurious” but said it won’t lead to conviction in the Senate.Putin questioned the causes of climate change, but said not doing anything about global warming isn’t an option.The Russian leader said he was “alarmed” by recent suggestions from Ukraine that the Minsk agreements on the conflict in the Donbas region should be changed, but said he’s hopeful a deal on gas trade can be reached.In a break from tradition, Putin launched straight into a Q&A with journalists instead of delivering his usual opening remarks about the Russian economy.Europe Allows ‘Terrorists’ to Walk the Streets Freely, Putin says (2:15 p.m.)Putin fired back against criticism from German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has accused Russia of failing to cooperate in the investigation of a murder of a Georgian citizen in Berlin that prosecutors there suspect was linked to Moscow.The Kremlin has denied any involvement in the killing of Zelimkhan Khangoshvili, an ethnic Chechen, in broad daylight last August. But Putin denounced him as a “killer,” accusing him of murdering 98 people and links to a deadly bombing in the Moscow subway in 2010. Germany refused numerous requests from Russian security services to hand him over, allowing a “terrorist” to walk free in a European capital, Putin said.Berlin expelled two Russian diplomats in early December over the case and the Kremlin responded in kind, kicking out two German embassy staffers last week.Constitutional Changes Possible, Could Limit Presidential Terms: Putin (1:45 p.m.)Putin remained coy about the possibility of changing the constitution to allow him to remain in power beyond 2024, when his current term ends and he is legally bound to step down.Putin said he was aware of proposals to increase the powers of parliament and adjust those held by the traditionally strong president and weaker prime minister. “I understand the logic of those who are suggesting these things,” he said. “But all this can only be done after serious preparations and a wide discussion within society, and it should be done very carefully.”Putin has been in power since 2000, and is in his fourth term as president. Between his second and third terms, he ceded the presidency to Dmitry Medvedev and served as Prime Minister for four years.Putin did suggest that he supported calls for changing the constitution to prevent future presidents from doing what he did by making the limit two terms total, not two consecutive terms, as the current version holds.Trump Impeachment ‘Spurious,’ Won’t Succeed, Putin Says (1:25 p.m.)The impeachment of U.S. President Trump is based on “spurious” arguments, Putin says, adding that a political maneuver by his partisan opponents that won’t lead to conviction in the Republican-controlled Senate.Trump’s presidency is far from over as Republican lawmakers “are unlikely to want to drive out of power a representative of their own party,” Putin says.The Russian leader called the Democratic push for impeachment “part of the ongoing domestic political battle” in the U.S.Russia wants to improve ties with the U.S. irrespective of who is president, Putin said. He expressed disappointment at the refusal so far of the Trump administration to extend the New START nuclear treaty, which expires in 2021. If there’s no new arms control agreement, “there won’t be anything to halt the arms race,” he warned.Putin Sides With Stalin Over Lenin on Structure of Soviet Union (1:10 p.m.)Putin sided with Joseph Stalin’s geopolitical vision over Vladimir Lenin’s, saying Russia is still paying the price for the Bolshevik leader’s decision to organize the USSR as a confederation of nationalities, a move that Stalin opposed.Lenin’s decision opened the country up to territorial disputes and as a result there are currently 2,000 potential hotspots within Russia that the Kremlin needs to contend with, Putin said. Despite the criticism, Putin doesn’t think it’s time to remove the body of the leader of the Russian Revolution from his mausoleum on Red Square because too many people see him as an important historic figure.Putin ‘Alarmed’ at Ukraine Wish to Review Peace Deal (12:50 p.m.)Putin said any bid to re-open so-called Minsk peace accord with Ukraine struck in 2015 will mean “we end up in a total dead-end” and that he’s “alarmed” at Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s recent comments about this possibility.The Russian president also said he’s hopeful Moscow and Kyiv will reach a deal on gas supplies and transit, but said differences on terms remain.At a meeting in Paris earlier this month, Zelenskiy made he clear he wants Ukraine to regain control of its eastern border before a vote is held in the disputed Donbas region. Putin said Russia insists on sticking to the Minsk deal, under which the border would be handed over only after the elections are held.At the same time, the Russian leader pointed to “positive” developments, including the extension of a temporary autonomous status for Donbas and the pull-back of forces in certain areas on the conflict line. Putin denied the presence of any foreign troops in Donbas, but conceded that heavy weapons including tanks and artillery may have been provided to the separatists by states “that sympathize with them.” Those weapons now belong to the separatists, he said. Ukraine and Western powers accused Russia of backing the Ukrainian rebels militarily.‘No-One Really Knows’ Cause of Global Warming (12:00 p.m.)Putin questioned whether human activity is the real cause of climate change as Moscow experiences the highest December temperatures for 133 years. Putin said it’s very difficult, if not impossible, to calculate how humanity is affecting climate change, and it “might arise from planetary processes.” The vast majority of climate scientists have concluded that global warming is caused by human activity.Still, he acknowledged that the climate is changing and said that Russia needs to maximize efforts to fight it. Russia, which relies on oil and gas exports for about half of budget revenues, is the world’s fourth-largest carbon emitter. The country ratified the 2015 Paris Agreement on cutting global emissions in September.READ: The Kremlin Dismisses Climate Change as the World Heats Up–With assistance from Natasha Doff and Henry Meyer.To contact the reporters on this story: Ilya Arkhipov in Moscow at iarkhipov@bloomberg.net;Jake Rudnitsky in Moscow at jrudnitsky@bloomberg.netTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Gregory L. White at gwhite64@bloomberg.net, Natasha DoffFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com©2019 Bloomberg L.P.