Russian President Vladimir Putin welcomed NATO’s selection of former Norwegian prime minister Jens Stoltenberg as its new head, saying yesterday the pair had “very good relations,” but that it was up to the West to improve ties.
Relations between Russia and the NATO military alliance are at their worst since the Cold War following Russia’s seizure of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, a move Putin on Thursday said was partly influenced by NATO’s expansion into eastern Europe.
In an interview with the state-run Rossiya TV station, to be broadcast later yesterday, Putin indicated that the appointment of Stoltenberg, who is to take over in October, could help ties.
“We have very good relations, including personal relations. This is a very serious, responsible person,” Putin said, according to a pre-transmission transcript provided to news organizations.
“But let’s see how he will develop relations in his new capacity,” he said in the interview, for the Russian news show Vesti yesterday with Sergei Brilyov.
In a sign of his strained ties with current NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Putin repeated an accusation that the former Danish prime minister had secretly taped and leaked a private conversation between them, a charge Rasmussen has denied.
Putin said there was no reason relations between Russia and the West can not improve, but that it was up to the West to make that happen.
“I think there is nothing that would hinder a normalization and normal cooperation” with the West, Putin said. “This does not depend on us. Or rather not only on us. This depends on our partners.”
Putin did not name any specific measures that the West should take.
However, his spokesman on Friday indicated that a lack of respect from the West was a major factor, saying it was treating Russia like a “guilty schoolboy.”
In a sign of the difficulty of reaching a compromise on the position of Crimea, which the West considers part of Ukraine, Putin said he would award medals to Russians who served during its seizure.
“Of course, there will be state decorations,” he said.
He also rejected criticism of Crimea’s referendum on independence, which took place under Russian occupation, saying that 83 percent of the peninsula’s voters went to the polls, something it would have been “impossible” to stage.
He dismissed comparisons made by Western analysts between Russia’s “anti-terror” operations in Chechnya in the 1990s and actions being taken by the Ukrainian government against pro-Russian separatists.
“These were properly formed, well prepared groups who were supplied and armed from aboard. This is a big difference,” Putin said.
Meanwhile, US President Barack Obama made clear his “disgust” at anti-Jewish leaflets handed out in eastern Ukraine’s main city, his top national security aide said on Friday.
The pamphlets telling Jews to register or be expelled were distributed in the city of Donetsk and sparked global outrage and fears of a Nazi-style pogrom.
“The president expressed his disgust quite bluntly,” Obama’s National Security Advisor Susan Rice said. “I think we all found word of those pamphlets to be utterly sickening, and they have no place in the 21st century.”
Rice said that US Secretary of State John Kerry, who condemned the leaflets on Thursday in Geneva, Switzerland, had made US objections clear to Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov.