Putin says he values U.S. as ally but fears its influence
December 23, 2004
MOSCOW – President Vladimir V. Putin used a year-end news conference Thursday to sharply criticize a wide range of U.S. actions and attitudes on Ukraine, Chechnya, Yukos Oil Co. and the issue of democracy within Russia.
Yet the Russian leader paired his complaints with praise for President Bush and even called the two countries “allies” whose national interests are bringing them closer together.
Putin bluntly described the controversial takeover this week of the private oil company’s core asset by a state-owned company as a step to redress injustices of Russia’s post-Soviet shift from communism to capitalism. In doing so, he appeared to drop the pretense that authorities’ action seeking $27 billion in back taxes from Yukos was primarily a law enforcement matter.
“You all know very well how privatization took place here in the early 1990s and how, using various tricks and sometimes violating the laws that were in effect at the time, many market participants got hold of state property worth many billions,” he said. “Today the state, using absolutely legal market mechanisms, is securing its interests. I consider this to be quite normal.”
Putin blasted a Houston bankruptcy court’s effort to block the forced auction Sunday of Yukos’ largest asset, the Yuganskneftegaz unit, which accounted for more than 60 percent of the company’s production. He described the court’s action as “totally unacceptable in terms of international law” and said it also failed “to comply with international politeness.”
“I am not sure that the judge knows where Russia is, and I am a little doubtful about her professional background,” he said of Bankruptcy Judge Letitia Clark. “We think that international relations should be equal, with respect of the sovereignty of all states.”
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Despite the U.S. court injunction, a previously unknown Russian financial group successfully bid for Yuganskneftegaz Sunday and then was itself sold to state-owned Rosneft oil company, in effect nationalizing 11 percent of Russia’s crude oil production.
Some of Putin’s harshest words were triggered by developments in Ukraine, where opposition protests of fraud in a November presidential election led to a revote scheduled for Sunday.