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Putin phone call: Arms to Iran justified

Russian PM holds annual call-in

President Vladimir Putin defended the recent sale of anti-air missiles to Iran in his annual public phone call with Russians on Thursday.

He argued that Iran had shown flexibility in recent nuclear talks and that the Iranian regime's possession of the sophisticated S-300 surface-to-air missile system would be a deterrent factor to escalating conflict in the Middle East.

Putin said on Thursday that he did not expect sanctions against Russian businesses and individuals by Western powers to be lifted soon.

He also addressed a question regarding Polish apples and answered a question from a British expat dairy farmer based in Russia.

Sanctions against Russia were imposed by the West last year after its incursion in Ukraine and the downing of the Malaysia Airlines MH17 passenger plane over territory controlled by Russian-backed rebels.

Russia instigated counter-sanctions in response, with apples imported from Poland one of the biggest victims. However, there have been recent reports about some Polish apples appearing again in Russia, which Putin blamed on "bad work" by customs officials in his call on Thursday.

At Putin's annual "direct line" event, ordinary Russians are invited to ask him questions. A record number of questions - over one million - were received ahead of this year's event.

Putin said that the annexation of Crimea and the Winter Olympics in Sochi were the country's greatest successes in 2014.

He conceded that the economy, beset by plummeting oil prices, the fall in the value of the ruble, inflation and sanctions by Western powers, was the "bad part" of the year.

When reminded by one caller that he had said the economy could return to growth in two years, Putin said: "It may be quicker.

"With what we are seeing now, the strengthening of the ruble and the growth in the markets ... I think that it may happen faster."

However, he said there was "nothing catastrophic" about the volume of capital outflows - money taken out of the country - that Russia was experiencing.

The call has run for more than four hours in the past, as calls, texts and emails come in from across the world's largest country in geographic terms.

One of the quirkier moments in this year's call came when John Kopiski, a former U.K. resident who is now a Russian dairy farmer, asked Putin if he really believed the agriculture statistics he was given.

Regarding how John the Farmer made it to Russia, Putin questioned whether or not a woman was involved, using a French term and invoking laughter from the audience.

On questions about Ukraine, however, Putin was defiant in saying that there were no Russian troops in the country and that Kiev was not honoring its part in the Minsk agreement.

He added that by "not fulfilling its social obligations," Kiev was cutting Donbass—a region that fell victim to armed conflict between Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russian separatists—off from the rest of Ukraine.

In addition, Putin called the murder of opposition leader Boris Nemstov shameful and tragic and said the investigation into his death should be fast-tracked.

Regarding relations with the U.S., the Russian President said he did not ruin them and that Russia could not exist within the relations America has created.