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Putin tells Europe on US trade threat: ‘I told you so’

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Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday that he had warned European countries years ago about the risk of the United States imposing its rules on others, and that they were now paying the price for ignoring him.

Speaking during an annual live television phone-in with the Russian people, Putin likened the tariffs that Washington imposed last week on steel and aluminum imports from Canada, Mexico and the European Union to economic sanctions.

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“It appears our partners thought that this would never affect them, this counterproductive politics of restrictions and sanctions. But now we are seeing that this is happening.”

The president said he had warned in a speech in Munich in 2007 about a growing U.S. sense of exceptionalism and the risk of it imposing its own rules on other countries.

“That is exactly what is happening now. Nobody wanted to listen, and nobody did anything to stop this from developing. Well, there you go, you’ve been hit. Dinner is served … please sit down and eat.”

Putin also accused the United States of upsetting the strategic nuclear balance, and said nobody should take any hasty steps: “The understanding that a third world war could be the end of civilization should restrain us.”

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He warned neighboring Ukraine that if it tried to make any military moves against pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine while Russia hosts the impending soccer World Cup, it would suffer.

“I hope that there won’t be any provocations, but if it happens I think it would have very serious consequences for Ukrainian statehood in general,” he said.

AUDIENCE WITH PETITIONERS
Putin, who easily won re-election in March, has since 2001 used the annual phone-in to cast himself as a decisive troubleshooter on the home front and a staunch defender of Russia’s interests on the world stage.

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Critics say the event, being held a week before the World Cup starts, is a stage-managed piece of theater designed to let Russians let off steam and fleetingly feel as if they can influence a bureaucratic, top-down system. Putin, 65, and his aides say it is an indispensable tool to gauge public sentiment and learn about people’s real problems.

Kremlin-watchers often liken his performance to that of a tsar listening to his petitioners as he often promises to fix individuals’ household problems.

Putin had another “I told you so” message for Russian businessmen, saying he had previously warned them about the risks of keeping their assets abroad, and that they were now being persecuted by countries such as Britain.

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Putin had been asked about the visa problems being experienced by billionaire Roman Abramovich in Britain.

“I warned them that this situation, which we see today, could develop. I … recommended at the time that our business keep its capital in Russia, in the motherland,” said Putin.

“Who is going to help them abroad? They are just persecuted there. Conditions are created to make their work impossible.”

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AWKWARD QUESTIONS
At the start of a new presidential term and on a drive to improve living standards, Putin also used the event to try to reassure Russians about the economy.

“Overall, we are heading in the right direction,” he said. “We have started on the trajectory toward robust economic growth in Russia. Yes, this growth is modest, small, but it is also not a fall.”

The Russian central bank forecasts economic growth at between 1.5 and 2 percent this year.

This year, Putin dispensed with his usual studio audience, fielding questions asked by text and video. He referred some questions to regional governors, government ministers and state company heads who were shown on giant TV monitors sitting at their desks across Russia, waiting to be quizzed.

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Members of the public submitted around 2 million questions, state TV reported, some of them flashed up on a giant screen close to Putin.

Some of those questions, which Putin did not attempt to answer, were politically awkward.

One asked why opposition leader Alexei Navalny had not been allowed to register as a candidate in the presidential election, another why there was money for the military but not ordinary people, and another asked whether Russia was a banana republic.

“Life is getting worse and worse,” read another. “It’s in the Kremlin where everything is wonderful.”

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Additional reporting by Polina Nikolskaya, Polina Ivanova, Denis Pinchuk, Vladimir Soldatkin, Tom Balmforth, Maria Tsvetkova, Katya Golubkova, Daria Korsunskaya, Maria Kiselyova, Polina Devitt; Writing by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Kevin Liffey


Report typos and corrections to: [email protected].
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Here are 5 wild moments from the House’s first public impeachment hearing

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The impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump entered a new phase on Wednesday morning, when the first public testimony was presented. The two witnesses presented were Ambassador William B. Taylor (who had been in charge of Ukraine-related matters under the Trump Administration) and U.S. State Department diplomat George P. Kent (deputy assistant secretary for European and Eurasian affairs). And while House Republicans aggressively defended Trump during Taylor and Kent’s testimony, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) and other Democrats used Taylor and Kent’s testimony to show why Trump deserves impeachment.

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Bill Taylor fires back at Jim Jordan: ‘I don’t consider myself a star witness for anything’

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Bill Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, clashed with Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) on Wednesday.

At the first public hearing on the impeachment of President Donald Trump, Jordan accused Taylor of being the "star witness" for Democratic lawmakers.

"I don’t consider myself a star witness for anything," Taylor replied after Jordan's time expired.

"They do!" Jordan erupted, motioning toward the Democratic Party's side of the room.

"Please don’t interrupt the witness," Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) cautioned.

"I was clear about that I am not here to take one side or another or to advocate any particular outcome, and let many restate that," Taylor insisted. "And the main thing is that my understanding is only coming from people that I talked to."

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GOP operative freaks out over train wreck impeachment hearings: ‘No one wants to be here!’

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Republican lawmakers' attempts to undermine impeachment witnesses Bill Taylor and George Kent on Tuesday were widely seen as a train wreck for President Donald Trump, and one unnamed GOP operative sent a message to a Bloomberg News reporter freaking out about how poorly it's gone.

In a message sent to Bloomberg's Sahil Kapur, the operative said that the hearing has been "a massive f*cking sh*tshow" and claimed that "no one wants to be here."

Just got this message from a Republican operative: pic.twitter.com/KvHLAckA2M

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