Russian President Vladimir Putin welcomed President Trump’s decision to withdraw troops from Syria—during his annual marathon press conference—suggesting that it was long overdue.
“American troops should not be in Syria and have been there illegally,” he said, according to a ticker-tape account from the Russian news agency RT. “If the decision to withdraw them was taken, that’s the right decision.”
At around the same time, Donald Trump was characteristically blaming the press for claims that Russia would be pleased by the U.S. exit from Syria in an early morning tweet. “Russia, Iran, Syria & many others are not happy about the U.S. leaving, despite what the Fake News says, because now they will have to fight ISIS and others, who they hate, without us. I am building by far the most powerful military in the world. ISIS hits us they are doomed!”
Putin appeared to disagree. He went on to say that Russian and American military “specialists” have managed to overcome the differences between the two countries and work together on anti-terrorism efforts with success.
There were some moments of levity in the lengthy Q&A session, like when a journalist asked Putin when and to whom he would marry, to which he joked they were two different questions. But most of the hours-long press conference was deadly serious.
When asked about nuclear war, Putin seemed to forewarn of an apocalyptic situation. “If, God forbid, something like that were to happen, it would lead to the end of all civilization and maybe also the planet,” he said, according to Reuters. “These are serious questions and it’s a real shame that there’s a tendency to underestimate them. It is a legitimate issue, and it is even growing.”
He seemed to suggest that if it happened, America might be to blame because of its withdrawal from the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty. “There are currently certain specifics, there is a danger,” he said according to a Reuters transcript. “We are essentially witnessing the breakdown of the international order of arms control.”
He then blamed Ukraine for provocations in the Kerch Strait, implying that it was upcoming elections that triggered them. “Why do our Ukrainian partners need this for development? They need to escalate the situation around the elections, to raise the rating of one candidate for the post,” he said, adding that it was done at the expense of the Ukraine’s interests. “Did the provocation achieve its aims? In terms of raising ratings, maybe.”
The press conference, which has lasted more than four hours in the past, allows Putin to write the past year’s history while setting the agenda for the year ahead.