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Russia

Putin confidant Yakunin criticizes US during conference in Berlin

Vladimir Yakunin, one of the Russians targeted by sanctions prompted by the annexation of Crimea, has spoken out against the US. The railway mogul was speaking in Berlin, where he is still allowed to travel.

A close of ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin warned the EU to strive for dialogue instead of doing Washington's bidding. The comments were delivered on Thursday at a German-Russian conference in Berlin. Along with other officials, Vladimir Yakunin, president of the Russian Railways company, was slapped with a travel ban in March over the annexation of Crimea.

"A lot of US senators don't even know where Crimea is," Yakunin said.

The EU, US and interim government in Kyiv have denounced the referendum vote on the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea as illegal and have condemned Russia's aggression toward Ukrainian interests.

In an attempt to drive Russia out of Ukrainian politics, both Washington and Brussels have levied sanctions in the form of travel bans and asset freezes on individuals linked to Putin. However, not all of the sanctions overlap, thus allowing Yakunin to attend the conference in Berlin despite Germany's clear stance against Russia's current policies.

Germany is currently seen as a key player in the impasse, with Chancellor Angela Merkel in regular contact with Putin and Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier mediating negotiation efforts in Ukraine.

The Wurst example

In his warning to the EU, Yakunin focused not on Russia's role in Ukraine's impasse, but on accusing the US of spreading a false democracy.

"Why is it that everything that comes from across the ocean is good - even the Iraq war? But any attempt by Russia to make a proposal is viewed negatively?" he said.

Lumping US and Western European values together, the Putin confidant said Washington was spreading a "vulgar ethnofascism" in the form of liberty and forcing other countries to take on these values.

"The ancient definition of democracy has nothing to do with bearded women, but with the leadership of the people," the Russian Railways president said, referring to Eurovision Song Contest winner Conchita Wurst. The Austrian transvestite drew international attention last weekend for performing in a glamorous dress, full makeup and a beard.

Russia has faced international accusations of promoting intolerance by passing a law this past year that bans "homosexual propaganda." Officials contend the legislation protects youths.

kms/mkg (Reuters, dpa)

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