Putin calls NATO 'relic' but backs Afghan presence
MOSCOW - Agence France- Presse
Russia's Prime Minister and President-elect Vladimir Putin makes a pause as he speaks in the State Duma lower house of parliament, in Moscow, on April 11, 2012. Putin said today Russia has beaten the economic crisis and called on political forces to unite as he prepares to return to the Kremlin next month. AFP PHOTO / KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEVPresident-elect Vladimir Putin called NATO a "relic of the Cold War" today but said Russia still welcomes the Western military bloc's presence in Afghanistan.
"I think that NATO as a whole -- and I say this directly to our colleagues -- is a relic of the Cold War era," Putin said to a round of applause from lawmakers who were present for his annual address to parliament.
But Putin then quickly added that NATO on occasion plays a "stabilizing" role in world affairs and particularly raised the example of Afghanistan.
"We understand what is happening in Afghanistan -- right? We are interested in things there being under control. Right? And we do not want our soldiers to fight on the Tajik-Afghan border," he said in reference to Moscow's Soviet-era involvement in Afghanistan.
"Well, NATO and the Western community is present there. God give them good health. Let them work," Putin said.
Opposition party walks out of Putin address to parliament
Deputies from the opposition A Just Russia party staged a highly unusual walkout of the Russian parliament on today during an appearance by president-elect Vladimir Putin.
Faction leader Sergei Mironov led his deputies out of the chamber in protest at Putin's response to a question about a mayoral vote in the southern city of Astrakhan that his party says was rigged and prompted the local candidate to go on hunger strike.
Putin replied he had no authority to intervene in the case and urged the candidate to go to court. He also question why the hunger strike was declared before any appeal had been filed.
Mironov "gave the order to leave the chamber because of Putin's rudeness," A Just Russia deputy Ilya Ponomaryov tweeted moments after the incumbent prime minister's answer.
"We were not satisfied with the prime minister's response," Interfax later quoted Mironov as saying.
Putin then went on to answer the next question from another lawmaker without commenting on the incident.