The Latest: Putin welcomes armed OSCE observers in Ukraine

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia (AP) — The Latest from the Russian Economic Forum in St. Petersburg (all times local):

5:15 p.m.

President Vladimir Putin says that Russia would welcome an armed international observer mission in Ukraine.

Putin said Friday that Ukraine needs to honor the Minsk peace deal for eastern Ukraine by offering broader rights to the region, holding elections there and offering amnesty to rebels.

He dismissed the Ukrainian argument that a full cessation of hostilities must precede all those steps, saying that on the contrary the political settlement is essential for fully ending hostilities.

Putin said he agrees with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s proposal to allow observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to carry weapons.

Fighting in eastern Ukraine between Ukrainian forces and Russia-backed separatists erupted in April 2014, weeks after Russia’s annexation of Crimea and has claimed more than 9,300 lives.


4:45 p.m.

President Vladimir Putin has reaffirmed that he views Donald Trump as a “bright” person and appreciates the Republican presidential candidate’s promise to turn a new page in U.S. relations with Russia.

Speaking Friday at Russia’s top economic forum, Putin said that Russia will work constructively with any candidate who wins the U.S. presidential election in the hope that the winner would strive for developing relations with Russia and building a safer world.

Asked about his previous praise for Trump, Putin said that his description of Trump as a “bright” man stands. He added that he has noted Trump’s statement that he’s ready to establish a full-fledged dialogue with Russia.

Asked about his view of Hillary Clinton, Putin dodged direct comment, but spoke highly of Bill Clinton, saying he was grateful to him for his help.


4:30 p.m.

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi says that Britain will suffer the most if voters chose to leave the European Union, but voiced confidence that they will decide to stay.

Renzi says that if Britain votes to opt out of the 28-nation bloc, it will deal a heavy blow to the EU in short term. But in mid-term, Britain will suffer much more, with British consumers bearing the brunt of it, he said.

He added Friday that he felt sure that the majority will vote to stay, saying that they are “wiser than opinion polls show.”


4:20 p.m.

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi says the fulfillment of the Minsk peace deal for eastern Ukraine is essential for lifting Western sanctions against Russia.

Renzi said Friday that all parties involved in the deal should honor its terms, a nod to Russia’s arguments that Ukraine must honor its side of the deal.

Renzi said that while some EU nations strongly backed the crippling economic sanctions against Russia, he thinks that it is necessary to move toward lifting them.

He said that Russia is an indispensable partner in helping Europe fight extremism.


4:05 p.m.

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi says that his country wants to strengthen its economic presence in Russia.

Renzi said that Italy would welcome some of its agricultural technologies being used in Russia to strengthen economic ties as Russia’s ban on most EU food remains.

Renzi also said that Russia and the EU share the same values.

Renzi spoke Friday at Russia’s top economic forum, which was attended by chief executives of many multinationals for the first time after a two-year break amid a strain between Russia and the West over the Ukraine crisis. Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the EU’s executive Commission, also attended, raising hope for a thaw in Russia-EU ties.

Italy was badly hurt when Moscow banned most food imports from the EU in retaliation to the EU sanctions against Russia. Still, Moscow has sought to maintain good ties with Rome, and Putin repeatedly visited Italy even though he was shunned in most other European capitals.


3:50 p.m.

President Vladimir Putin says Russia doesn’t need a new Cold War and that the country’s policy is “aimed at cooperation and search for compromise.”

Speaking at Russia’s major economic forum Friday, he criticized the West for ignoring Russia’s legitimate interests. He said there is no reason for NATO’s continued expansion, and noted that the U.S.-led NATO missile defense plans pose a threat to Russia.

He said the missile defense program is continuing despite the disappearance of the Iranian nuclear threat, which had been named as the main reason for that.

Putin added that the Western policy of unilateral actions will undermine global stability. He called for searching for a balance of interests to strengthen international security.

Putin repeated his accusations that the West had been backing a forceful ouster of Ukraine’s former Moscow-friendly president. He insisted that Russia’s annexation of Crimea was rooted in what he described as a coup in Ukraine.


3:00 p.m.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has called on European leaders to improve ties with his country despite sanctions.

Speaking at Russia’s top economic conference Putin said Friday the European Union should “show flexibility” and consider the interests of EU investors who want to do business with Russia.

Western leaders and company executives went to Russia’s St. Petersburg Economic Forum this year after a two-year break that felt more like a boycott.

Putin had a meeting with the CEO of Royal Dutch Shell on Thursday and other international executives, telling them that Russia is open to Western investment despite the strained ties with the West.

The U.S. and the EU slapped Russia with economic sanctions in 2014 after it annexed Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula and threw its backing to separatists in eastern Ukraine.