Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during his annual news conference in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, Dec. 19, 2019. Photo: Alexei Druzhinin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP.

MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin said Thursday that U.S. President Donald Trump was impeached for “far-fetched” reasons, calling the move by Democrats a continuation of their fight against the Republican leader.

“The party that lost the (2016) election, the Democratic Party, is trying to achieve results by other means," Putin said at his annual news conference in Moscow.

He likened Trump's impeachment to the earlier U.S. probe into collusion with Russia, which Putin played down as groundless. Former special counsel Robert Mueller concluded earlier this year that the Russian government interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election in a “sweeping and systematic fashion.”

Trump on Wednesday became only the third American president to be impeached. The historic vote in the House of Representatives split along party lines over a charge he abused the power of his office by trying to enlist the president of Ukraine to investigate a political rival ahead of the 2020 election. The House also approved a second article of that he obstructed Congress in its investigation.

Noting the Republicans have a majority in the Senate, where a trial of Trump will be conducted, Putin said “they will be unlikely to remove a representative of their own party from office on what seems to me an absolutely far-fetched reason.”

Putin spoke on a variety of issues during the marathon news conference that was dominated by local issues, such as Russia's ailing health care system and federal subsidies for the regions.

He opened it by warning about new challenges posed by global climate change, saying that global warming could threaten Russian Arctic cities and towns built on permafrost.

The Russian leader added that climate changes could trigger fires, devastating floods and other negative consequences.

Putin emphasized that Russia has abided by the Paris agreement intended to slow down global warming. At the same time, he noted that factors behind global climate change have remained unknown and hard to predict.

The 67-year-old president, who has been in power for two decades, also hailed the economic achievements of his rule. He emphasized that Russia has become the world's largest grain exporter, surpassing the U.S. and Canada — a dramatic change compared to the Soviet Union that heavily depended on grain imports.

He also pointed at industry modernization, saying that three quarters of industrial equipment is no older than 12 years.

He said that Russia has built three new airports, 12 new railway stations and the number of major highways has doubled.

The Russian economy had suffered a double blow of a drop in global oil prices and Western sanctions that followed Moscow's 2014 annexation of Crimea. It has seen a slow recovery since 2017 after a two-year stagnation.

Russia's ties with the West have remained at post-Cold War lows, but Putin argued that Russia has recovered and become more resilient to shocks from Western penalties and fluctuations in global energy prices.

Putin voiced hope for further moves to settle the conflict in eastern Ukraine following his talks in Paris on Dec. 9 with the leaders of Ukraine, France and Germany.

He said that the 2015 peace agreement signed in Minsk and brokered by France and Germany must be observed, rejecting Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy's push for revising it.

The fighting in eastern Ukraine, which flared up in 2014 after Russia's annexation of Crimea, has killed more than 14,000 and ravaged Ukraine's industrial heartland.

The Minsk deal envisaged that Ukraine can regain control over the border with Russia in the separatist-held regions only after they are granted broad self-rule and hold local elections. The agreement was a diplomatic coup for Russia, ensuring that the rebel regions get a broad authority and resources to survive on their own without cross-border support.

Zelenskiy pushed for tweaking the timeline laid out in the accord so that Ukraine gets control of its border first before local elections are held, but Putin firmly rejected that.

“There is nothing but the Minsk agreement,” Putin said. “If we start revising the Minsk agreement, it will lead to deadlock.”

He said Russia still hopes to negotiate a new gas deal with Ukraine that will allow his country to maintain transit shipments of gas to Europe via Ukrainian territory. The Russian leader noted that Moscow would be ready to continue pumping gas via Ukraine even though the new prospective Nord Stream 2 pipeline under the Baltic Sea is expected to come online next year.

Putin, who once lamented the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union as the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century, had some harsh words to say about Soviet founder Vladimir Lenin.

He lambasted Lenin's policies on ethnic issues, saying that his idea to grant broad autonomy to ethnic-based Soviet republics, including their right to secede, paved way for the Soviet breakup once the Communist Party's hold on power started to loosen.

At the same time, Putin rejected the push for taking Lenin's embalmed body out of the Red Square tomb and burying it, saying that it would offend older people who still see the Soviet founder as a powerful symbol.

He noted that the Soviet demise spawned expectations of a “unipolar world” in which the U.S. dictates terms to others, adding that such “illusions” quickly collapsed. Putin said that China has come to challenge the U.S. as the global economic powerhouse and hailed increasingly close ties between Moscow and Beijing.

Putin, whose current term runs through 2024, remained coy about his political future. He wouldn't answer if he could potentially extend his rule by shifting into a new governing position to become the head of a Russia-Belarus union.

He left the door open to amending the Russian Constitution, such as changing the powers of the president and the Cabinet, but noted that changes must be made carefully after a broad pubic discussion.

AP