The Latest: Putin says no plan for Belarus merger

Vladimir Putin

Russian President Vladimir Putin addresses the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum in St. Petersburg, Russia, Friday, June 7, 2019. (Valery Sharifulin/TASS News Agency Pool Photo via AP)

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia (AP) — The Latest on Russian President Vladimir Putin at an investment forum (all times local):

7:20 p.m.

Russian President Vladimir Putin says there is no plan for a full merger of Russia and Belarus.

Speaking Friday at an investment forum in St. Petersburg, Putin said the two ex-Soviet neighbors have worked to expand ties but have no plan to create a single state.

Russia and Belarus has signed a union agreement that envisages close ties but stops short of a full merger.

Speculation has been rife, however, that Putin may contemplate incorporating Belarus as a way to extend his rule after his current presidential term expires in 2024. Forming a new union state would allow him to stay at the helm.

Putin firmly ruled it out Friday, saying that “there is no basis today for the states’ merger, and we have no such plans or goals.”

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7.05 p.m.

A U.S. investor under house arrest on embezzlement charges was denied a waiver to attend Russia’s main business forum.

Michael Calvey was put behind bars in February and later placed under house arrest on charges of embezzlement from the Russian bank Vostochny, in which his investment firm Baring Vostok has a controlling stake. He denies wrongdoing.

Calvey had sought a permission to attend an investment forum in St. Petersburg, but the authorities haven’t granted him that, according to his lawyers.

Speaking at the forum, President Vladimir Putin said the investigation must run its course, adding that he expects a “fair and legitimate” verdict.

Calvey’s company is one of the largest foreign investment firms in Russia and his arrest dented investors’ confidence.

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6:35 p.m.

Russian President Vladimir Putin says solid security guarantees need to be given to North Korea to persuade it to denuclearize.

Speaking at an investment forum in St. Petersburg alongside Chinese President Xi Jinping, Putin said Moscow and Beijing both want Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons.

But he noted that North Korea has “an example of Iraq and Libya before its eyes and it doesn’t want to repeat their fates.”

Pyongyang, he added, would need serious guarantees.

Putin said he discussed the issue with Xi Thursday and had earlier talked about North Korea with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo when he visited Russia last month.

The Russian leader voiced hope that U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un could continue negotiations.

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5:40 p.m.

Russian President Vladimir Putin says he is open for talks with Ukraine’s newly-elected president.

Asked Friday why he didn’t congratulate comedian Volodymyr Zelenskiy on taking the office of Ukrainian president last month, Putin pointed at Zelenskiy’s statements in which he called Russia an aggressor.

Relations between the two countries have been strained ever since Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine and Moscow’s support for a separatist insurgency in eastern Ukraine.

Putin said that Zelenskiy is a talented actor, but noted that “there is a difference between playing and being.”

He softened the statement by adding that Zelenskiy may have the makings of a leader and said that he is open for a meeting with Ukraine’s new leader

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3:45 p.m.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has criticized the United States for using pressure and sanctions to maintain its economic supremacy, hurting international trade and eroding global stability.

Speaking Friday at an investment forum in St. Petersburg, the Russian leader said the U.S. has turned its currency into an “instrument of pressure,” undermining trust in the U.S. dollar and damaging its own interests.

Putin said the U.S. attempt to “spread its jurisdiction to the entire world” challenges the global order.

Flanked by Chinese President Xi Jinping at the forum’s panel, Putin said that the U.S. action against Chinese telecom giant Huawei represented an attempt to “blatantly squeeze it out of the global market,” marking “the first technological war of the digital era.”

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