FACT CHECK: Putin on the ruble collapse, Ukraine

MOSCOW (AP) — A fact-checking look at some of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s statements on the ruble collapse and the Ukrainian crisis from his annual news conference Thursday:

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ON THE RUSSIAN ECONOMY:

PUTIN: “We will rely on these reserves. And I’m sure we will be able to confidently solve major social issues, will be diversifying the economy and, inevitably, I repeat, the situation will go back to normal.”

THE FACTS: With the ruble losing about half its value since January, a staggering capital outflow and flagging investment, experts are predicting the Russian economy will plunge into recession next year. Despite Putin’s repeated pledges to steer Russia’s economy away from oil and gas, those two industries still account for more than half of government revenues.

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ON OIL PRICES:

PUTIN: “I don’t know how long it will take for us to adapt to that, if the (oil) prices remain where they are or even fall below $60 or $40 (per barrel).”

THE FACTS: Putin, who has an 81 percent approval rating from Russians, was confident enough to openly mention a negative scenario laid out by market analysts, who widely predicted that the crude prices could keep tumbling down next year. He acknowledged that the decline in oil prices poses a tough challenge to Russia.

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ON CRIMEA:

PUTIN: “We are not attacking nor we are invading anyone. We only defend our interests.”

THE FACTS: Days after February’s fall of a Kremlin-friendly president in Ukraine, thousands of well-armed masked men seized key facilities in Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and laid siege to Ukrainian military bases there. Russia insisted they were local self-defense forces despite the Russian military plates on their vehicles and other telltale signs. Putin finally conceded later that Moscow had deployed troops to Crimea ahead of a hastily called referendum in which residents favored joining Russia. Immediately following the vote, Russia annexed Crimea.

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ON THE FIGHTING IN EASTERN UKRAINE:

PUTIN: “It wasn’t the insurgents in southeastern Ukraine who sent their troops to Kiev. Quite on the contrary, the Kiev government moved troops to the southeast, used artillery fire and aviation.”

THE FACTS: The situation in eastern Ukraine was relatively calm until groups of unknown well-armed men descended on several cities in April, seizing local government offices and setting up checkpoints on roads. Apart from several APCs with poorly equipped soldiers, the Kiev government did not send troops there until late May, when fighting escalated.

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ON HUMAN RIGHTS ISSUES IN RUSSIA:

PUTIN: “In relation to Russian officials, I would like to repeat: there have never been any attempts or any order for any reprisals against anyone and never will be.”

THE FACTS: Russian authorities have been harassing opposition leaders and human rights organization for years, with police, other law-enforcement agencies and courts involved in the crackdown. Russia’s Justice Ministry recently asked the Supreme Court to shut down Memorial, the country’s best-known human rights organization. Authorities also have been hounding election watchdog Golos and other civic groups to register as foreign agents since they get some foreign funding. Opposition activists like Alexei Navalny have also been slapped with numerous criminal cases, many brought forward with no injured party involved.

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