By NATALIYA VASILYEVA and JIM HEINTZ
MOSCOW (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin says he believes other countries wrongly regard Russia as a threat and that mistaken concept can end if they see that the economic sanctions the West has put on Russia don’t serve their interests.
Russia has been hit with sanctions by the United States and the West over its 2014 annexation of Crimea, its support for separatist rebels in Ukraine’s east and its alleged interference in the U.S. 2016 presidential election.
Britain has also blamed the nerve agent poisoning in the U.K. of a Russian former spy and his daughter on Russia, which it denies. Both the West and Russia have expelled more than 150 diplomats on each side over that issue.
“This pressure will end when our partners become convinced that the methods used by them are ineffective, counterproductive and harmful to all,” Putin said Thursday. “They see Russia as a threat. They see that Russia has become a competitor to them … we propose that this is a very mistaken policy.”
The annual call-in show, like Putin’s marathon news conference each winter, is an elaborate demonstration of Putin’s stamina, lasting several hours and reinforcing his dominance of Russia’s politics. The nationwide broadcast on state TV channels showed frequent shots of communications workers at computers monitoring questions submitted by viewers.
This was Putin’s first show since being inaugurated for a new six-year term last month, in which he promised extensive efforts to get Russia’s economy to grow into one of the world’s top five.
On Thursday he said Russia’s gross domestic product is currently 1.5 percent higher than a year ago. He described it as modest but said he’s confident that future “growth is guaranteed.”
Putin also said the government will be looking to streamline the tax system in order to fight poverty, but denied speculation that Russia was considering abandoning its flat-rate income tax.