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The Latest: Putin: Meldonium not performance-enhancing

Vladimir Putin
The Associated Press

MOSCOW (AP) — The Latest on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s marathon call-in TV show (all times local):

1:55 p.m.

Russian President Vladimir Putin says meldonium, the banned substance for which tennis star Maria Sharapova has tested positive, shouldn’t be considered a performance-enhancing drug.

There have been 172 failed drug tests for meldonium worldwide since the Latvian-made heart-drug was banned in 2016. Russian athletes make up the largest contingent of those known to have tested positive so far.

Putin says Thursday during a marathon call-in show that meldonium “doesn’t influence the result, that’s totally certain,” and instead “just keeps heart muscles in good condition.”

While Putin said he did not think authorities were targeting Russia in the decision to ban meldonium, he criticized the World Anti-Doping Agency for not carrying out research earlier on how long it takes to leave the body.

Some athletes say they stopped taking meldonium before it was banned but have still tested positive.

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1:25 p.m.

President Vladimir Putin says Russian and Egyptian officials so far have failed to agree on security procedures needed to restore direct flights between the two nations, which were halted by Moscow after the downing of a Russian passenger jet.

The Russian plane flying from an Egyptian resort crashed into the Sinai Peninsula on Oct. 31, killing all 224 people on board. Moscow said it was brought down by an explosive device, and a local Islamic State group cell has claimed responsibility for planting it.

The crash and Russia’s decision to cut air links to Egypt has dealt a severe blow to Egypt’s vital tourism sector.

Putin says Thursday at his annual call-in show that Russia and Egypt must agree on enhanced airport security checks to make it safe for the Russians to travel to Egypt. He said no agreement has been reached yet.

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1:10 p.m.

President Vladimir Putin says Russia considers Turkey a friendly nation despite the current strain in their relations.

Russian-Turkish ties worsened dramatically after a Turkish jet shot down a Russian warplane at the Syrian border last November. Putin responded by halting package tours to Turkey and banning most agricultural imports from Turkey.

The Russian president says Thursday during a marathon TV call-in show that Russia still considers Turkey a friendly nation but has “problems with some politicians who have behaved improperly.”

When a 12-year-old girl asked Putin if he would save Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko if they were drowning and who would he will save first, Putin responded wryly that “if someone decided to get drowned, t’s impossible to save him.”

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12:50 p.m.

Russian President Vladimir Putin says Russia has shored up the Syrian army to the point where it can conduct offensive operations despite a Russian military drawdown.

Putin, who was speaking Thursday in a marathon call-in TV show, says after Russia pulled back some of its warplanes from Syria, the Syrian army recaptured Palmyra from the Islamic State group.

Putin voiced hope that the Russian- and U.S.-brokered truce will help Syria peace talks in Geneva go forward, paving way for a new constitution and an early election. The IS and the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front have been excluded from the truce.

Commenting on the situation around Aleppo, where fighting has intensified recently, Putin said the Nusra units and other opposition forces are positioned close to each other, complicating the situation.

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12:25 p.m.

President Vladimir Putin says Russia’s agricultural production has risen even though its national economy has plunged into recession, and predicts that the economy will start growing next year.

Putin was speaking Thursday during his highly scripted marathon call-in TV show. The Russian leader uses the annual event to burnish his image as a strong leader who protects Russia from foreign threats and cares about people’s needs.

The first question came from a woman from the Siberian region of Omsk who asked about potholed roads. Putin replied the government needs to make sure that local officials don’t divert road construction funds to other needs.

Ahead of the show, Russians sent more than 1 million questions to Putin, ranging from economic troubles at home to the situation in Syria and Ukraine.

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