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Putin acknowledges threats posed by climate change

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting of the Pobeda (Victory) Organizing Committee in the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2019. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin, Pool)

MOSCOW — President Vladimir Putin said Thursday that global climate change poses new challenges to Russia.

Speaking at his annual news conference Thursday, Putin said that global warming could threaten Russian Arctic cities and towns built on permafrost.

He added that climate changes could trigger fires, devastating floods and other negative consequences.

Putin emphasized that Russia has abided by the Paris agreement intended to slow down global warming.

At the same time, he noted that factors behind the global climate change have remained unknown and hard to predict.

Putin, who has been in power for two decades, also hailed the economic achievements of his rule. He emphasized that Russia has become the world’s largest grain exporter, surpassing the U.S. and Canada — a dramatic change compared to the Soviet Union that heavily depended on grain imports.

The Russian leader also pointed at industry modernization, saying that three quarters of industrial equipment is no older than 12 years.

He said that the country has built three new airports, 12 new railway stations and the number of major highways has doubled.

The Russian economy had suffered a double blow of a drop in global oil prices and Western sanctions that followed Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Crimea. It has seen a slow recovery since 2017 after a two-year stagnation.

Russia’s ties with the West have remained at post-Cold War lows, and Western penalties have continued to stymie the country’s economic growth.

Putin voiced hope for further moves to settle the conflict in eastern Ukraine following his talks in Paris on Dec. 9 with the leaders of Ukraine, France and Germany.

He said that the 2015 peace agreement signed in Minsk and brokered by France and Germany must be observed, rejecting Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s push for revising it.

The fighting in eastern Ukraine that flared up in 2014 after Russia’s annexation of Crimea has killed more than 14,000 and ravaged Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland.

The Minsk deal envisaged that Ukraine can regain control over the border with Russia in the separatist-held regions only after they are granted broad self-rule and hold local elections. The agreement was a diplomatic coup for Russia, ensuring that the rebel regions get a broad authority and resources to survive on their own without cross-border support.

Zelenskiy pushed for tweaking the timeline laid out in the accord so that Ukraine gets control of its border first before local elections are held, but Putin firmly rejected that.

“There is nothing but the Minsk agreement,” Putin said. “If we start revising the Minsk agreement, it will lead to deadlock.”

Vladimir Isachenkov And Harriet Morris, The Associated Press