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A fear of mutual destruction should stop global powers from attacking each other and prompting World War III, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Thursday during a public phone-in.
"The understanding that a third world war could be the end of civilization should restrain us from taking extreme steps on the international arena that are highly dangerous for modern civilization," Putin said during his annual question and answer session with Russian citizens.
"The threat of mutual destruction has always restrained participants of the international arena, prevented leading military powers from making hasty moves, and compelled participants to respect each other," he added.
The president holds the session each year, taking questions on a wide range of subjects from Moscow's geopolitical stance to domestic and regional issues. This year's direct line to the president is the 16th he has held and over 2 million questions were submitted, according to state broadcaster Russia Today.
The phone-in comes after Putin's re-election to a fourth term as president and a resurgent Russia on the global stage, despite tense relations with the West, which are nothing new.
Russia is still operating under economic sanctions imposed by the U.S., European Union and several other countries following its annexation of Crimea in 2014 and its role in a pro-Russian uprising in east Ukraine that same year.
Putin said sanctions were counter-productive, remarking that "unilateral sanctions do not resolve problems" and were a way of restraining Russia — as were allegations of wrongdoing by Moscow.
Those events, coupled with the Kremlin's military support for Syria's pariah President Bashar Assad, alleged meddling in the 2016 U.S. election and suspected involvement in a nerve agent attack on a former Russian spy in the U.K., have eroded relations between Russia and the international community.
Putin said the West sees Russia as a threat and competitor but that this approach is a mistake. "Russia has to defend its interests," he said and pledged to keep doing that.
Still, it has many friends and good relations with superpowers like China and the Russian leader's relationship with President Donald Trump seems robust — Putin said earlier this week that he and Trump talk on the phone regularly.
Speaking about Russia's economy, he said it is "moving in the right direction,"
"Overall, we are moving in the right direction. What is the basis for saying this? We have started on the trajectory towards robust economic growth in Russia. Yes, this growth is humble, small, but it is also not a fall. Growth was at 1.5 percent last year," Putin said as he took calls from the public.
Putin cited rising growth, historically low inflation, rising foreign investment, as well as rising life expectancy and incomes as signs of economic and societal improvement in Russia. He recognized, however, that "not everyone feels (the economic improvements) yet."
The price of fuel and the upcoming World Cup soccer tournament, which starts next week, as well as other domestic issues, also featured in the phone-in.
On rising fuel prices — caused in no small part by Russia's decision, with OPEC oil producers, to curb supply — Putin said that it was an "unacceptable" situation.
"What is going on right now, it is unacceptable, it is wrong. However, it must be admitted that it is the result of inaccurate regulation, that was brought in recently in the sphere of energy, in energy resources," he said.
"By the fall of this year, additional measures should be introduced which will stabilize the situation on the market. I am basing this on the fact that the government will be monitoring this carefully," he added, asking Russian Energy Minister Novak to explain how the situation would be improved.
"Agreements have been reached at the government level with all companies to increase the production of oil products and on deliveries to the domestic market to not permit a deficit," Novak said via video link.
"Additionally, we have worked out a series of measures aimed at stabilization. I am referring to the possibility of introducing export tariffs by the Russian government on deliveries of oil products for export."
On soccer, Putin said the national team "had not had strong results" recently but would show its best qualities at the World Cup tournament, which starts on June 14.