Russian President Vladimir Putin said here Friday that he respects the territorial integrity of Spain and regrets the lack of improvement in his countries relations with the United States, while insisting on dialogue as the path to denuclearize the Korean peninsula.
Putin was friendly, upbeat, and satisfied with the success of this year's Saint Petersburg International Economic Forum, featuring the presence of France's Emmanuel Macron, at the start of his session with the heads of the world's 10 leading news agencies, including Spain's Agencia EFE.
For this fifth edition of what has become an annual tradition, the Russian president chose a smaller table, creating more of a sense of intimacy.
He quipped light-heartedly with those in attendance.
When the president of the Italian news agency's cell phone rang, Putin asked him, "is Mr. Trump calling you?"
"And if it's not Trump, it's surely Xi Jinping. Give him my regards, you must be a very important person," Putin continued.
Jokes aside, the recently re-elected Putin said that he intends to comply with Russia's constitution by retiring when his current term ends in 2024.
He denied that Moscow has supported the independence drive of the northeastern Spanish region of Catalonia.
"We have good and fruitful relations with Spain that we want to maintain, and we also want the situation in Spain to normalize and for Spain to conserve its territorial integrity," Putin said.
"All peoples have a right to self-determination, but at the same time we believe in respecting and conserving the sovereignty of states and the established borders," he added.
"This is our stance, and it's the one we've conveyed to the Spanish government," Putin said in response to a question from EFE.
Regarding accusations from various countries about cyberattacks directed by Moscow, he said it was "nonsense" to say that Russia was behind them.
"They always say this about Russia. This was said with regard to Brexit, and we're accused of everything bad. But these are internal processes in each country that we have absolutely nothing to do with. Maybe Boris Johnson's a Russian agent?" Putin said.
He was referring to the United Kingdom's current foreign secretary, who backed the successful campaign for Britain's exit from the European Union.
"There's an evident desire to blame us for everything, and that's an unproductive and harmful approach that undermines international relations," Putin said.
"They're accusing us of every mortal sin and that's not being serious," he said, citing this week's release of a report blaming Russia for the downing of a Malaysian airliner over Ukraine in 2014.
Asked about Russian relations with the US since Donald Trump became president in January 2017, Putin said that "they have not worsened, but neither have they improved."
During the 2016 campaign, Trump advocated the pursuit of more friendly ties between Washington and Moscow.
"We are hostages of the internal problems of the United States," Putin said. "I hope we will soon see the end of this situation, because we need to talk to improve the relationship and to talk about the various conflicts."
"We are prepared for dialogue and we want dialogue, but frequently decisions are made directed solely at harming Russia," he said, noting the presence of "anti-missile systems in Alaska, in Norway, in Denmark, on all our borders."
"They are actions directed toward weakening Russia militarily. What can we do? To balance things, we will produce our own military systems," Putin said.
Turning to the situation on the Korean peninsula, he said that "the problem of denuclearization can't be solved without negotiation."
"Dialogue between the parties is fundamental, necessary, and useful. If we want total denuclearization we have to give North Korea guarantees about its sovereignty and security," Putin said on the same day that Trump, who earlier this week canceled his June 12 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, said that the talks might take place after all.
"Russia is very interested in finding a definitive solution to this problem, given that it is too close to our border, and we would like to aid and to participate in finding a solution to denuclearization," the president said.
Pressed on whether he truly plans to give up the presidency in 2024, Putin said that as he has "always" done, he will continue to "rigorously comply" with the constitution of Russia.
"The constitution is clear: no more than two consecutive terms, and this is my second term," he said. "I intend to comply with that norm in the future."
And though everyone knows that Putin is not much of a soccer fan, he ventured to declare Spain one of the favorites to win the World Cup tournament set to get under way in Russia on June 14.
Putin, who practices judo and likes winter sports such as ice hockey, sang the praises of Spain, which won the World Cup in 2010.
Rejecting the idea that Russia views hosting the World Cup mainly in terms of enhancing its international image, he said that the real agenda is to improve infrastructure for the benefit of future generations.
"We want this World Cup to be a party for the world and I think we're going to accomplish that," Putin said.
By Jose Antonio Vera & Virginia Hebrero.