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Putin Welcomes New NATO Chief, Hopes For Better Ties

Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) with the next NATO Secetary-General Jens Stoltenberg (file photo)
Vladimir Putin has welcomed NATO's selection of former Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg as its new head.

In an interview with the state-run Rossia television station to be broadcast on April 19, the Russian president said his relations with Stoltenberg were "very good."

He described Stoltenberg, who takes over in October, as "a very serious, responsible person" and voiced hope that his appointment will improve ties.

"Let's see how he will develop relations in his new capacity," he said, according to a pre-transmission transcript provided to news organizations.

Relations between Russia and the NATO military alliance are at their worst since the end of the Cold War following Russia's annexation of Crimea.

Putin has said Russia's actions in Ukraine were partly influenced by NATO's expansion into Eastern Europe.

Speaking to Rossia, Putin reiterated an accusation that current NATO head Anders Fogh Rasmussen had secretly taped and leaked a private conversation between them when he still served as Danish prime minister.

Rasmussen has denied the charge.

Putin said there was "nothing that would hinder a normalization and normal cooperation" with the West, but added it was up to the West to make that happen.

"This does not depend on us. Or rather not only on us. This depends on our partners," he said.

Putin rejected Western criticism of Crimea's Russia-backed referendum on independence, saying the 83-percent turnout would have been "impossible" to fake.

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He said he planned to award medals to Russian servicemen who helped seize the peninsula.

Putin also urged Ukraine to clear its gas debts within a month.

"We cannot wait forever," he said, adding however that Russia was "not trying to undermine the Ukrainian economy."

He called on all European countries to come up with measures to finance the Ukrainian budget.

His remarks came two days after talks between Russia, Ukraine, the United States, and the European Union in Geneva resulted in an agreement outlining a series of steps to ease the crisis in Ukraine.
With reporting by Reuters, AFP, Interfax, and ITAR-TASS.
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