Moscow’s international reputation has been battered by the killings late last year of two critics: investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya in Moscow and former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko in London, who blamed Putin for his radiation poisoning in a deathbed statement.
Asked about Litvinenko, who died after someone slipped him radioactive polonium-210 in London last fall, Putin described him as a figure of little importance.
President Vladimir Putin on Thursday rejected Western criticism he is using his energy policies as a weapon, denounced the deployment of U.S. anti-missile systems in eastern Europe, and said he didn’t believe in conspiracy theories in the poisoning death of a former KGB officer.
Addressing 1,200 reporters at his annual news conference, Putin rejected allegations in the West that price disputes with Ukraine and Belarus — which triggered interruptions of Russian oil and gas deliveries to Western Europe — amounted to using Moscow’s vast energy reserves to achieve political aims.
“The thesis is being thrust on us all the time that Russia is using its old and new economic efforts to attain foreign political goals. It is not so,” Putin said. The price increases, he said, are driven simply by Russia’s desire to get fair prices for its gas and oil after years of providing energy at below-market prices to former Soviet neighbors.
“We’re not obliged to subsidize the economies of other countries,” Putin said. “Nobody does that, so why are they demanding it of us?”
Putin uses the annual news conference, televised live on two nationwide state-run channels, to burnish his image domestically as a competent, caring president in control of a resurgent country with a growing economy and global clout.