Putin promises to use new term to beef up defences against West

MOSCOW: Russian President Vladimir Putin struck a softer tone towards the West yesterday after winning his biggest election victory.

He said he had no desire for an arms race and would do everything he could to resolve differences with other countries.

Mr Putin's victory, which comes at a time when his relations with the West are on a hostile trajectory, will extend his political dominance of Russia by six years to 2024.

That will make him the longest-serving ruler since Soviet dictator Josef Stalin and has raised Western fears of spiralling confrontation.

But Mr Putin, 65, used a Kremlin meeting with the candidates he soundly defeated in Sunday's election to signal his desire to focus on domestic, not international, matters, and to try to raise living standards by investing more in education, infrastructure and health while reducing defence spending.

"Nobody plans to accelerate an arms race," said Mr Putin.

"We will do everything to resolve all the differences with our partners using political and diplomatic channels."

His comments, which are likely to be heard with some scepticism in the West following years of confrontation, mark a change in tone after a bellicose election campaign during which Putin unveiled new nuclear weapons he said could strike almost any point in the world.

Russia is currently at odds with the West over Syria and Ukraine; allegations of cyber attacks and meddling in foreign elections; and the poisoning in Britain of a former Russian spy and his daughter. As a result, relations with the West have hit a post-Cold-War low.

With nearly 100 percent of the votes counted, the Central Election Commission, announced that Mr Putin, who has run Russia as president or prime minister since 1999, had won 76.69 per cent of the vote.


Chinese President Xi Jinping was among the first to offer his congratulations to Mr Putin, but Mr Heiko Maas, Germany's new foreign minister, questioned whether there had been fair political competition.

Meanwhile, Mr Putin said late on Sunday that it was nonsense to think that Russia would have poisoned former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Britain and said Moscow was ready to cooperate with London.

But British Prime Minister Theresa May said yesterday Russia was to blame for the poisoning.

"I am clear that what we have seen shows that there is no other conclusion but the Russia state is culpable for what happened on the streets of Salisbury," Mrs May told Sky News, when asked if Mr Putin was lying.- REUTERS, AFP