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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Putin Says UN Is Still a Driving Force

APAnnan talking with Putin and Lavrov on Monday. Putin said he supports plans to create an expert group to give recommendations on how to make the UN a more nimble force.
President Vladimir Putin assured visiting UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Monday that Russia believes the United Nations is indispensable in resolving international conflicts and supports the creation of a high-level expert group to give recommendations on how to make it a more nimble force in today's world.

"We hear talk about the United Nations failing to cope with solving difficult tasks," Putin said in remarks posted on the presidential web site. "I would like to see how international relations would develop if the United Nations didn't exist. There is no other efficient mechanism for solving global problems."

Former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov will be Russia's representative on an expert panel to consider UN reform, initiated by Annan. The creation of a new rapid-reaction force to respond to 21st-century threats is envisaged as part of these changes.

Annan said he hoped the chilly antagonism that divided nations in the wake of the Iraq war -- which the United States led without the UN Security Council's blessing -- was gone for good. "I agree with you that the tensions that existed in the past year dissipated a little bit, and I'm seeing governments coming together once again to tackle issues of common interest," Annan said, The Associated Press reported.

He added: "Only through joint efforts can we resolve complex problems standing before the international community today."

The secretary-general thanked Russia for playing a "leadership role" in the UN: "The Russian Federation has always been a staunch supporter of the United Nations in our efforts to help make the world a better place."

Andrew Kuchins, a foreign policy specialist at the Carnegie Moscow Center, observed that Annan was in town even though he had no pressing diplomatic business to carry out. "It's more like a courtesy call to meet with the re-elected president and key government figures," he said.

Annan's visit -- his first since January 2000 -- comes immediately on the heels of similar courtesy calls by the heads of state of France and Germany, the two other Security Council members that together with Russia opposed the nearly unilateral U.S. campaign in Iraq.

Annan, with strong support from Moscow, Paris and Berlin, has pushed for the United States to give Iraq sovereignty under the auspices of the UN. A June 30 hand-over date has been set, though U.S. officials have warned that destabilizing street violence could push that back.

Russia places great pride in its role as a pillar of the five-member Security Council, one of the few remaining symbols of its Soviet-era great power status. For that reason it has resisted the erosion of the UN's international authority.

Annan on Monday also met with Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov, who pledged that Moscow would increase the volume of humanitarian aid it provides to other countries, Itar-Tass reported.

The Emergency Situations Ministry announced separately Monday that it was sending to Belgrade a first shipment of pre-fabricated houses for Serbian refugees from Kosovo.

There remained some dispute over how much Russia still owes of the $20 million it pledged to the World AIDS Fund, but this did not prove to be a stumbling block at Monday's meetings.

Also on the agenda for Annan's meetings were reconstruction in Afghanistan and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in light of a U.S.-proposed "Greater Middle East Initiative" being prepared for the Group of Eight summit in June at Sea Island, Georgia.

Earlier Monday, Annan spoke at the opening of the 15th Moscow International Model United Nations conference, held at the Foreign Ministry's press center auditorium. Annan told aspiring diplomats participating in the mock debates that they had to take responsibility for what happens in the world.

Of the officials whom Annan met with Monday, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was a familiar face. Lavrov spent a decade in New York as Russia's ambassador to the UN until he joined the government last month.

During their meeting, Putin told Annan that Lavrov's appointment as foreign minister was evidence of Moscow's high respect for the UN.

Deputy Foreign Minister Yury Fedotov met Annan's plane Sunday evening at Sheremetyevo Airport, escorting the secretary-general and his wife, Nane Lagergren, a Swedish lawyer, to a private dinner with Lavrov and Primakov.

By all appearances, relations between Annan and Lavrov have grown more amicable since September 2003, when the two tangled publicly over Annan's decision to ban smoking on the premises of the UN. Lavrov -- an unapologetic smoker -- memorably told Izvestia that Annan was a "hired manager" who did not have the authority to stop diplomats from smoking.