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
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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.


Maldives president calls India ‘our closest friend’

Updated 11 min 8 sec ago
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Maldives president calls India ‘our closest friend’

  • India has long seen the Indian Ocean nation as part of its sphere of influence
  • Solih defeated strongman Yameen Abdul Gayoom, who had forged increasingly closer to ties to China

NEW DELHI: The new president of the Maldives has called India the island nation’s closest friend, welcome words for New Delhi after years of Beijing’s growing economic influence.
The Press Trust of India news agency reports that President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, speaking Sunday in New Delhi, said India “is not only our closest friend, it is also our largest trading partner.”
Solih defeated strongman Yameen Abdul Gayoom, who had forged increasingly closer to ties to China, in a September election.
India has long seen the Indian Ocean nation as part of its sphere of influence. China, though, sees the Maldives as part of its “Belt and Road” infrastructure programs, which follow ancient trade routes through the Indian Ocean and Central Asia. Beijing has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in the Maldives.