After fresh mandate, Putin tells West: ‘I don’t want arms race’

Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with candidates who participated in the last presidential election, Boris Titov, Maxim Suraikin, Ksenia Sobchak, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, Pavel Grudinin, Sergei Baburin and Grigory Yavlinsky, at the Kremlin in Moscow Monday. (Reuters)
Updated 20 March 2018
0

After fresh mandate, Putin tells West: ‘I don’t want arms race’

MOSCOW: Russian President Vladimir Putin struck a softer tone toward the West on Monday after winning his biggest ever election victory, saying he had no desire for an arms race and would do everything he could to resolve differences with other countries.
Putin’s victory, which comes at a time when his relations with the West are on a hostile trajectory, will extend his political dominance of Russia by six years to 2024. That will make him the longest-serving ruler since Soviet dictator Josef Stalin and has raised Western fears of spiralling confrontation.
But Putin, 65, used a Kremlin meeting with the candidates he soundly defeated in Sunday’s election to signal his desire to focus on domestic, not international, matters, and to try to raise living standards by investing more in education, infrastructure and health while reducing defense spending.
“Nobody plans to accelerate an arms race,” said Putin.
“We will do everything to resolve all the differences with our partners using political and diplomatic channels.”
His comments, which are likely to be heard with some skepticism in the West following years of confrontation, mark a change in tone after a bellicose election campaign during which Putin unveiled new nuclear weapons he said could strike almost any point in the world.
With nearly 100 percent of the votes counted, the Central Election Commission (CEC), announced that Putin, who has run Russia as president or prime minister since 1999, had won 76.69 percent of the vote.
With more than 56 million votes, it was Putin’s biggest ever win and the largest by any post-Soviet Russian leader.
But the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), a rights watchdog, said restrictions on fundamental freedoms, as well as on candidate registration, had restricted the scope for political engagement and crimped competition.
“Choice without real competition, as we have seen here, is not real choice,” the OSCE said in a statement.
The CEC said earlier on Monday it had not registered any serious complaints of violations.
Backed by state TV and the ruling party, and credited with an approval rating of around 80 percent, Putin faced no credible threat from a field of seven challengers.
His nearest rival, Communist Party candidate Pavel Grudinin, won 11.8 percent while nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky got 5.6 percent. His most vocal opponent, anti-corruption campaigner Alexei Navalny, was barred from running.
Navalny, who had called on voters to boycott the election, urged his supporters not to lose heart and said his campaign had succeeded in lowering the turnout, accusing authorities of being forced to falsify the numbers.
Near-final figures put turnout at 67.7 percent, just shy of the 70 percent the Kremlin was reported to have been aiming for before the vote.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov played down suggestions that tensions with the West had boosted turnout, saying the result showed that Russians were united behind Putin’s plans to develop the country.
He said Putin would spend the day fielding calls of congratulation, meeting supporters, and holding talks with the losing candidates.
Chinese President Xi Jinping was among the first to offer his congratulations to Putin, but Heiko Maas, Germany’s new foreign minister, questioned whether there had been fair political competition.


US regrets Afghan civilian deaths, says answer is peace

Updated 25 April 2019
0

US regrets Afghan civilian deaths, says answer is peace

  • International and pro-government forces were responsible for the deaths of 305 civilians in the first three months of the year, UN says

WASHINGTON: The US envoy negotiating with the Taliban voiced regret Thursday over findings that US-backed forces were killing more civilians than the militants, and said the solution was a peace deal.

A UN report released found that international and pro-government forces were responsible for the deaths of 305 civilians in the first three months of the year.

“We deeply regret any loss of innocent life during military operations. We never target innocents,” said Zalmay Khalilzad, the US negotiator who is set shortly to resume talks with the Taliban in Qatar on ending the war.

“War is treacherous, and unintended consequences are devastating. While we strive to prevent casualties, real solution is a cease-fire or reduced violence as we pursue lasting peace,” he tweeted.

Khalilzad appealed to the Taliban and other Afghans to “work to make this the year of peace.”

He struck a different tone than the spokesman for US forces in Afghanistan, Col. Dave Butler, who said the US pursued “the highest standards of accuracy and accountability” and that troops “reserve the right of self-defense.”

President Donald Trump is eager to find a negotiated way to pull out troops and end the longest-ever US war.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, with whom the Taliban refuse to negotiate, has called for next week a “loya jirga,” a traditional gathering of all the country’s communities, although it is unclear how broad the attendance will be.

Officials in Kabul said the Taliban ambushed a security convoy in western Afghanistan, killing nine policemen, and in Kabul, a would-be attacker died when a bomb he was trying to plant at a private university detonated prematurely.

According to a councilman in western Farah province, Abdul Samad Salehi, the ambush took place in Anardara district as the convoy was heading to defuse a roadside bomb on Wednesday afternoon.

Shortly after the attack, other Taliban insurgents targeted and briefly overran the district police headquarters, setting off hours-long clashes, Salehi said. Reinforcements arrived later and managed to wrest back control of the headquarters.

In Kabul, a bomb meant to target the private Jahan University blew up apparently prematurely inside a campus bathroom, killing the suspected militant and wounding three students.

Basir Mujahid, spokesman for the Kabul police chief, said the blast took place around 10:30 a.m.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the explosion but the Taliban and Daesh have targeted schools and placed of education in the past.

Also on Thursday, unidentified gunmen wounded a local reporter in eastern Nangarhar province, said Farid Khan, spokesman for the provincial police chief.

Khan said Emran lemar, a reporter for the Mazal radio station, was shot inside a park in the provincial capital of Jalalabad. He was hospitalized and a police investigation into the attack has begun, Khan said.

In March, Sultan Mahmoud Khirkhowa, a local TV journalist in eastern Khost province, was shot and killed when two men on a motorcycle opened fire on his vehicle. The Daesh affiliate claimed the attack in Khost.