The Latest: Putin: Russia considers trade for Ukraine pilot

MOSCOW (AP) — The Latest on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s marathon call-in TV show (all times local):

4:55 p.m.

President Vladimir Putin says Russia and Ukraine are discussing the possible exchange of imprisoned Ukrainian pilot Nadezhda Savchenko.

A Russian court last month sentenced Savchenko to 22 years in prison after finding her guilty of complicity in the 2014 killing of two Russian journalists during fighting between Russia-backed rebels and the Ukrainian government in eastern Ukraine.

Savchenko has denied the charges and demanded to be returned to Ukraine. She declared a hunger strike last week.

Asked about the possibility of Savchenko’s exchange, Putin told reporters after Thursday’s TV call-in show that Russia has maintained contact with the Ukrainian leadership, which is aware of Moscow’s stance. He warned against “rushing” the issue.

The United States and European countries have joined Ukraine in urging Savchenko’s release.


4:15 p.m.

President Vladimir Putin says U.S. President Barack Obama has shown courage by saying that the failed aftermath of the 2011 intervention in Libya was the worst mistake of his presidency.

Obama, in an appearance on “Fox News Sunday,” said his biggest mistake was “probably failing to plan for the day after what I think was the right thing to do in intervening in Libya.”

Putin, speaking Thursday in a marathon call-in TV show, said Obama has shown his courage by making the statement, adding that “only a very strong man could do that.”

Putin said that the U.S. nearly made a similar mistake in Syria, but added that Moscow and Washington have cooperated in trying to settle the crisis.

The U.S.- and Russian-brokered cease-fire in Syria has helped reduce hostilities.


3:20 p.m.

President Vladimir Putin says Russia would welcome the deployment of armed OSCE monitors to eastern Ukraine to help ensure the complete cessation of hostilities.

Speaking during Thursday’s marathon TV call-in show, Putin says he agrees with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s proposal to increase the number of observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and deploy them along the line separating Ukrainian government forces and the rebels. He said OSCE monitors could also be armed.

A February 2015 deal signed in Minsk has helped reduce hostilities between Ukrainian forces and Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine, but skirmishes have continued. Two years of fighting has left 9,100 people dead.

Putin also accused Ukraine of dragging its feet on the political aspects of the Minsk agreement, such as giving the east more autonomy.


3:05 p.m.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has rebuked the regional leader of Chechnya over his comments about Russian opposition activists.

The statement by Ramzan Kadyrov, who branded the Russian opposition as traitors and ‘enemies of the people’ who must be punished, has drawn harsh criticism from rights activists.

Speaking Thursday during a marathon call-in TV show, Putin said Kadyrov’s statement wasn’t helpful for Russia’s stability, adding that he discussed it with him.

At the same time, he praised Kadyrov’s performance as the leader of Chechnya after two separatist wars

Last month, Putin nominated Kadyrov for another term in office, shrugging off demands for Kadyrov’s dismissal over an alleged role in the killing of a Russian opposition leader, Boris Nemtsov. Kadyrov has rejected opposition accusations of involvement in the killing.

(This version corrects spelling of Kadyrov in second paragraph)


2:30 p.m.

Russian President Vladimir Putin says the United States must abandon its “imperial ambitions” and treat Russia as an equal partner.

Speaking Thursday during a marathon call-in TV show, Putin said Washington must learn to respect Russia’s legitimate interests and cooperate with Moscow as an equal. Russia-US ties have been strained over the Ukrainian crisis, differences over Syria and other issues.

Putin says Moscow and Washington have been able to cooperate constructively on non-proliferation issues, the fight against terrorism, the Iranian nuclear standoff and other issues despite the tensions.

He warned the U.S. against “speaking from the position of force, diktat and imperial ambitions,” adding if the U.S. treats Russia with respect, “we will always be able to find solutions that will satisfy everyone.”


1:55 p.m.

Russian President Vladimir Putin says meldonium, the banned substance for which tennis star Maria Sharapova has tested positive, shouldn’t be considered a performance-enhancing drug.

There have been 172 failed drug tests for meldonium worldwide since the Latvian-made heart-drug was banned in 2016. Russian athletes make up the largest contingent of those known to have tested positive so far.

Putin says Thursday during a marathon call-in show that meldonium “doesn’t influence the result, that’s totally certain,” and instead “just keeps heart muscles in good condition.”

While Putin said he did not think authorities were targeting Russia in the decision to ban meldonium, he criticized the World Anti-Doping Agency for not carrying out research earlier on how long it takes to leave the body.

Some athletes say they stopped taking meldonium before it was banned but have still tested positive.


1:25 p.m.

President Vladimir Putin says Russian and Egyptian officials so far have failed to agree on security procedures needed to restore direct flights between the two nations, which were halted by Moscow after the downing of a Russian passenger jet.

The Russian plane flying from an Egyptian resort crashed into the Sinai Peninsula on Oct. 31, killing all 224 people on board. Moscow said it was brought down by an explosive device, and a local Islamic State group cell has claimed responsibility for planting it.

The crash and Russia’s decision to cut air links to Egypt has dealt a severe blow to Egypt’s vital tourism sector.

Putin says Thursday at his annual call-in show that Russia and Egypt must agree on enhanced airport security checks to make it safe for the Russians to travel to Egypt. He said no agreement has been reached yet.


1:10 p.m.

President Vladimir Putin says Russia considers Turkey a friendly nation despite the current strain in their relations.

Russian-Turkish ties worsened dramatically after a Turkish jet shot down a Russian warplane at the Syrian border last November. Putin responded by halting package tours to Turkey and banning most agricultural imports from Turkey.

The Russian president says Thursday during a marathon TV call-in show that Russia still considers Turkey a friendly nation but has “problems with some politicians who have behaved improperly.”

When a 12-year-old girl asked Putin if he would save Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko if they were drowning and who would he will save first, Putin responded wryly that “if someone decided to get drowned, t’s impossible to save him.”


12:50 p.m.

Russian President Vladimir Putin says Russia has shored up the Syrian army to the point where it can conduct offensive operations despite a Russian military drawdown.

Putin, who was speaking Thursday in a marathon call-in TV show, says after Russia pulled back some of its warplanes from Syria, the Syrian army recaptured Palmyra from the Islamic State group.

Putin voiced hope that the Russian- and U.S.-brokered truce will help Syria peace talks in Geneva go forward, paving way for a new constitution and an early election. The IS and the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front have been excluded from the truce.

Commenting on the situation around Aleppo, where fighting has intensified recently, Putin said the Nusra units and other opposition forces are positioned close to each other, complicating the situation.


12:25 p.m.

President Vladimir Putin says Russia’s agricultural production has risen even though its national economy has plunged into recession, and predicts that the economy will start growing next year.

Putin was speaking Thursday during his highly scripted marathon call-in TV show. The Russian leader uses the annual event to burnish his image as a strong leader who protects Russia from foreign threats and cares about people’s needs.

The first question came from a woman from the Siberian region of Omsk who asked about potholed roads. Putin replied the government needs to make sure that local officials don’t divert road construction funds to other needs.

Ahead of the show, Russians sent more than 1 million questions to Putin, ranging from economic troubles at home to the situation in Syria and Ukraine.

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