Russia's Putin denies propping up Assad
MOSCOW - Agence France- Presse
Russian President Vladimir Putin arrives for the news conference at the International Trade Center in Moscow, Russia 20 December 2012. Over 1,200 Russian and foreign journalists gathered to attend the first major news conference of President Putin. EPA/SERGEI CXIRIKOVRussian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday denied propping up Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and stressed that Moscow was only seeking to avert a perpetual civil war.
"What is our position? Not to leave Assad's regime in power at any price, but to first (let the Syrians) agree among themselves how they should live next," Putin told a major Moscow press briefing.
"Only then should we start looking at ways to change the existing order." Putin argued that Russia's call for dialogue was meant to avert "an endless civil war" between the armed rebels and government forces who still control most of the capital Damascus.
"We want to avoid (Syrian) disintegration," said Putin.
Putin's comments came less than a week after Russia's chief Middle East envoy said it appeared that Assad would not be able to fend off the rebels much longer.
The foreign ministry later denied an official shift in Russia's position toward Assad and noted that Moscow still recognised the Assad regime.
Russia remains one of Syrian regime's last major ally and has shielded Assad from UN sanctions aimed at punishing him for his use of heavy force against rebels.
Putin denies Russia has authoritarian system
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday denied that his system is authoritarian, saying that if this were the case, he would have made changes to the Constitution.
"I cannot call this system authoritarian, I cannot agree with this," he said, in his first major news conference since his return to the Kremlin. "If I considered a totalitarian or authoritarian system preferable, I would simply have changed the Constitution, it was easy enough to do."
President Vladimir Putin on Thursday also backed pending parliamentary legislation that would make it illegal for Americans to adopt Russian children in reprisal for a new Washington human rights law.
"I understand that this was an emotional response by the State Duma, but I think that it was appropriate," Putin told the first major press conference of his third term as president.
He complained bitterly that local US courts had found several Americans not guilty of manslaughter charges following the death of Russian children under their care.
The Russian legislation -- awaiting final approval in the Duma lower house of parliament on Friday -- is named in honour of a Russian child who suffocated in a locked car during the summer heat.
"The judges will not even let us attend (the US trials) as observers," Putin said.
Russia's new legislation came about after US President Barack Obama last week signed into law the so-called Magnitsky Act, named in honour of a lawyer who died in 2009 after blowing the whistle on a $235 police embezzlement scheme.
Magnitsky died under pre-trial arrest that his mother said had exposed him to "torture conditions".
Putin said the United States had no moral right to pass judgement on Russia's legal system "They themselves have plenty of problems," Putin said of the the United States.
"I have already talked about this: listen, Abu Ghraib. Guantanamo.
Putin said the US authorities "are holding people in jail for years without charging them. That is unbelievable.
"And what's more they don't just hold them in prison without charge, they hold them in shackles, like in the mediaeval ages," Putin fumed.
"Inside their own country they have legalised torture. Can you imagine if anything like that happened in our country?"
Putin offers Depardieu Russian passport
MOSCOW- Agence France-Presse
Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday he was ready to offer French movie star Gerard Depardieu a Russian passport to resolve his tax row, calling him a friend.
"If Gerard really wants to have a residency permit in Russia or a Russian passport, we can consider this issue resolved positively," Putin said at his first major news conference after his return to the Kremlin in a March election.
The website of Le Monde newspaper on Tuesday quoted Depardieu as telling friends that "Putin has already sent me a passport". Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov responded to the report by telling AFP that "most likely he was joking".
Depardieu on Sunday threatened to give up his French passport and take up Belgian citizenship to protest at the Socialist government's new tax hike on the rich.
But Putin questioned whether Depardieu really wanted to give up his French citizenship.
"I understand the feelings of Gerard Depardieu, but even though he said... that he considers himself a European, a citizen of the world, I know for a fact, since we have a very friendly, personal relationship, that he considers himself a Frenchman," Putin said.
"He loves his country very much," he said. "I am sure he is going through tough times." Depardieu made the threat to renounce his citizenship after French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault called him "pathetic" for making Belgium his formal place of residence, a move meant to help the actor avoid the French tax.