Putin’s epic annual conference fielding questions from the world’s media

RT

Hundreds of Russian and foreign journalists are attending the annual ‘big press conference’ with President Vladimir Putin. RT is reporting live from the event.

08:11 GMT The press conference is expected to last anywhere from three to four hours, and will primarily focus on domestic policy, including specific issues of various Russian regions voiced by the media from those places. Foreign policy is usually given about a quarter of the time.

08:11 GMT The Russian president usually hosts the ‘big press conference’ in December, using the occasion to provide a year-end report on the state of the nation to the Russian people. This Thursday’s event is the 15th for Putin.

09:07 GMT Putin’s big presser begins.

09:15 GMT A question from a journalist from Kamchatka, a region in Russia’s Far East, is about subsidies for air travel to and from it. Putin jokes he is a privileged passenger, so his visits to Kamchatka are not affected by ticket prices and goes into details about the subsidies. Boosting the wealth of residents and making airlines more efficient will also help, he said.

09:15 GMT First question of this year is about global climate change and how Russia is going to deal with it. Russia is not among the biggest emitters. US numbers say the US and China are the biggest ones, followed by the EU. Russia accounts for about 6 percent and goes after them, Putin says. Colossal climate changes happened in the past on Earth and were not due to human activities. But it’s not a reason not to act now, as we see a global rise in temperatures, regardless of its reasons. Russia has a number of cities built on permafrost, which will be heavily damaged as the permafrost thaws. There are parts of Russia that will turn to deserts. Fires, floods and other disasters are also influenced by climate change. Russia has to act to mitigate all those problems.

09:18 GMT A shouting journalist from Leningrad region gets to ask his question out of order “as an exception.” He asks about garbage disposal – a serious problem for Russia – and immediately proceeds to ask for a short interview after the conference, as fellow reporters laugh. Putin says building infrastructure and rooting out corruption takes time and suggests that officials should do a better job communicating to people in rural areas, who are angered to see garbage from cities getting hauled to landfills in places near their homes. Eventually there will be enough incinerators to deal with the garbage.

09:28 GMT A somewhat softball question asks what Putin has to say to critics, who accuse the Russian government of living off the industrial legacy of the Soviet Union. Putin says there are a lot of things left by the USSR that Russia should be proud of before shooting a barrage of numbers showcasing post-soviet buildup of infrastructure and industry.

09:36 GMT Here comes another regular topic for Putin’s pressers – the state of healthcare in Russian regions. Putin says the healthcare system works and is getting better, but certainly there are problems that need fixing. He goes into how the system is funded and how populist solutions may backfire by spinning up inflation. More may be poured in safely as the economy grows.

09:42 GMT The first question regarding international relations is about the doping scandal and WADA’s decision to suspend Russia from international competitions for four years and how Russian athletes are the party most hurt by the stand-off. Putin says the WADA decision was unfair and contrary to both the law and common sense. It essentially punishes Russia for a second time for the same alleged misdeeds. The sanctions are also a form of collective punishment. Our teen figure skaters can do what nobody else can do – and WADA’s decision simply bars them from wining. The decision is apparently biased due to political motives, Putin said.

09:48 GMT A question about Ukraine and the aftermath of the Normandy Four talks in France. Putin says he is reluctant to voice his personal opinions about foreign leaders like Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky, even after they retire. As for the peace process, a statement by Zelensky that the Minsk peace agreement should be revised is concerning, Putin said. The Minsk deal is the core of the reconciliation process, but the new Ukrainian government seems to be taking the same stances as the one before it. There is no permanent autonomy enshrined in the Ukrainian Constitution for the breakaway regions, no direct talks between Kiev and the self-proclaimed republics in the east. But there is progress in curbing violence and disengaging troops. So there is hope and diplomacy should continue.

09:55 GMT A question from a Ukrainian journalist who asks if Russia “will disband occupational administrations” in the self-proclaimed republics, referring to the governments of the Donetsk and Lugansk areas. Putin says the Ukrainian government itself was willing to see leaders of the republics as legitimate authorities when the Minsk Agreement was signed, but refused to talk to them directly later. He says Kiev should take responsibility for its own actions like the use of warplanes against militias and civilians, the economic blockade it imposed and others, and start an earnest attempt to reintegrate the rebellious regions.

09:59 GMT Another Ukraine issue is the gas conflict. Putin says the arbitration decision that awarded a multibillion dollar sum to Ukraine was partially political, considering it cited Ukraine’s poor economic situation as one of the reasons for the decision. But Russia has to take the ruling into account. Russia is willing to sign a new gas transit contract with Ukraine and even offer a discount to its gas, if Ukraine buys it directly from Russia, but the deals has to be mutually beneficial. Russia’s concern is that the interests of both countries as well as the buyers of Russian gas in Europe are satisfied with whatever arrangement is eventually reached.

10:02 GMT Back to domestic problems. People flee from the Urals and Siberia to big cities like Moscow and St. Petersburg partially because it’s easier to acquire housing there. Putin says building infrastructure in regions will make them more attractive for people before talking about government programs to support young parents.

10:09 GMT Putin is confronted about his recent remarks about Vladimir Lenin, whom he accused of undermining Russia with the Bolshevik Revolution. The president explained his position. Lenin turned Russia, traditionally a unitary state, into almost a confederation by enshrining the right of ethnic groups to seek independence from the USSR. It gave a rise to ethnic separatism and set up a plethora of problems that Russia still has to deal with. Ukraine, which split from the USSR and took many lands that were historically Russian, is one example. That’s the fruit of Lenin’s state-building exercises. Putin adds despite the criticism he doesn’t believe Lenin’s embalmed body should be taken out of the mausoleum in Moscow’s center, because it would hurt the personal feelings of many people in Russia.

10:12 GMT Putin talks about Moscow’s relationship with the Kadyrov clan in the Chechen republic and the current leader of the Russian southern republic, Ramzan Kadyrov. The Kadyrovs chose Moscow over the semi-terrorist forces that opposed it because they realized that it was the better choice for the Chechen people.And they risked their lives for their choice, as the assassination of Ramzan’s father Akhmad showed. The reconstruction of Chechnya is a testament to the wisdom of that decision.

10:15 GMT A Chechen journalist asks about a project of a highway, which would run through the republic and south into Georgia. Putin says there are several projects to develop transport infrastructure in southern Russia, but wouldn’t commit to any particular one. It’s not a question of whether it makes sense, it’s a question of priorities.

10:22 GMT Putin is asked about the impeachment of Donald Trump and anti-Russian sanctions that Washington champions. He says the Republican-controlled Senate is unlikely to remove Trump under a far-fetched accusation that comes on the back of a similarly far-fetched failed Russiagate scandal. He added anti-Russian rhetoric and actions are regretful, especially when they come from individuals, who don’t get to be accountable for the harm they inflict. For example, the US is trying to derail the Russian gas pipeline to Germany, claiming it is necessary to help Ukraine. If they really wanted to help Ukraine, they could simply give them some money, Putin said. The New Start nuclear reduction treaty, which soon expires, may be kept in force as is as long as the US agrees to it. If it is scrapped, nothing will remain to put a limit on the nuclear arsenals of the two nations, Putin lamented.

10:24 GMT A question about the upcoming celebration of Victory Day that Russia will hold next year and how some foreign leaders plan not to take part in it as a gesture of protests against Russian policies. Putin believes doing so would be disrespectful to all those who made sacrifices to defeat Nazi Germany – including people from the very same countries, which are going to boycott the Moscow events.

10:26 GMT A movement to denounce Mikhail Gorbachev’s policies, which resulted in the dissolution of the Soviet Union, will have no practical significance, even if it passes. Enshrining any ideology in Russia’s constitution is not a good idea. The USSR had a state ideology, and it didn’t end well.

10:29 GMT Does Putin think that the so-called national projects, big budget-funded initiatives to give a shot in the arm to certain parts of the Russian economy, are stalling and should be revised? Putin says there is no need for any major changes, but agrees individual officials should hold more responsibility for the failures that happen from time to time as part of the drive.

10:34 GMT Another hot political question about the case of Ivan Golunov, a journalist who faced drug charges without any evidence to back them. The case was a major scandal highlighting alleged corruption in Russian law enforcement. Putin said the relevant internal investigations units are reasonably efficient. Golunov’s frame-up case was indeed classified to not make police methods public, but was not buried, he assured.

10:38 GMT A journalist suggests Russia may need constitutional reform to empower the parliament at the expense of the executive branch. Putin says such changes require a lot of consideration. A reform that would make sense, Putin said, would be barring a person for holding more than two terms. The current version has the wording “in a row” – and thus allowed Putin to serve four terms, with a four-year break, when he held the office of prime minister under President Dmitry Medvedev.

10:40 GMT Russia is not “afraid” of inflation, but wants to keep it in check, Putin tells an inquiring journalist before going into detail on how Russia handles its money reserves, including by investing them into the national economy.

10:45 GMT Another question from the Yaroslavl region. It had expected a major investment in sport venues and people fear WADA’s ban will derail that investment. Putin said there was no need for concern, considering that competitions in Russia will not be banned retroactively and that there will be an appeal to the anti-doping agency’s ruling.

10:49 GMT A Chinese journalist asks how good the relationship between Moscow and Beijing is, according to Putin, and how the two nations can join forces to defend multilateral world order from unilateral actions by certain countries. Putin says Russia-China ties are special due to the high level of trust between them, and not only the amount of trade they have. There is no more unipolar world, the belief that it might exist was an illusion. International relations stem from economics. The US is no longer a nation controlling half of the world economy as it used to after World War II, and the realities reflect that.

10:58 GMT A journalist asks Putin’s opinion about the EU’s equation of the Nazi regime in Germany and Stalin’s USSR. He said the country under Stalin did a lot of shameful things and that Russia acknowledges it. But saying Stalinism and Nazism were the same takes a lot of selective amnesia, considering how European countries appeased Hitler and even profited from his predatory international policies, like Poland, which took parts of Czechoslovakia when it was attacked by Germany after the Munich agreement.The USSR certainly did sending troops to Poland when the Nazi troops attacked it, as was pre-agreed under the Molotov-Ribbentrop accord. But by that time the Polish government was no longer in control, and that makes a difference, he said.

10:59 GMT More questions about Russia’s domestic politics and a governor’s retirement. Putin pledges Moscow’s support to the region in question.

11:08 GMT The Russia-Belarus relationship and its so-called union state comes into question. Putin says the union state is a good idea, considering how close the two peoples are, but most of the vison was never implemented in practice, so a more recent integration project, EurAsES, has surpassed it. Belarus benefits a lot from preferential energy trade with Russia and Moscow is not prepared to offer more favorable terms. It may change if Belarus further aligns its domestic legislation with those of Russia, but it’s up to Minsk to decide if it is willing to do it. There is work on that aspect.

11:11 GMT Putin delves into another question about subsidized credit for housing for people in the Far East and red tape that exists in the banking sector.

11:17 GMT A question from a Spiegel journalist about the high-profile murder of a Chechen-origin Georgian citizen and inconsistencies between information on the case given by Moscow and Berlin. Putin said Russia sought the victim’s extradition for terrorism, but Germany rejected it. Officials in Berlin said it was not true. Putin explained the issue was discussed by special services of the two countries, and the Germans convinced Russian intelligence officers that officially seeking extradition would be useless, so no paperwork was ever done. He reiterates that the person killed in Berlin was a hardcore criminal responsible for many deaths in Russia. He said Germany was reluctant to take back German citizens, who joined terrorist forces in Syria and are now held in prisons there, but allowed terrorists from Russia to come freely. The Americans did the same with the Tsarnaev brothers, the people behind the Boston marathon bombing, Putin added. Moscow warned about their terrorist leanings, but Washington wouldn’t listen.

11:20 GMT A journalist comes with a couple of requests, including honoring a woman killed in 1942 and pardoning a certain person. The president makes no promises.

11:24 GMT Putin is asked about Latvia’s decision to ban Russian TV channels and Russia’s soured relations with the European Union in general. Putin reiterates that the European sanctions come at a high cost for the EU and Russia in terms of money, jobs and market shares. Russia managed to get some silver lining by boosting some industries like agriculture or engine building. Scrapping all politically-motivated restrictions on the economy would certainly be a better alternative, of course. Just look at how damaging the US trade war with China was.

11:28 GMT Putin gives a brief report on Russia’s defense industry and the achievements that the country has reached lately. There are problems too. Defense manufacturers currently have too much debt. The government is about to launch an initiative to deal with this problem.

11:32 GMT A journalist gives Putin an excuse to talks about one of his favorite topics, artificial intelligence. AI technologies are already benefiting Russians by making the banking sector of the country much more efficient. There are also self-driven vehicles, where Russia is among the pioneers. AI will be a major transformative force for the entire world, and being on top of it is essential for Russia’s prosperity and even survival, Putin reiterated.

11:36 GMT A journalist from Turkey asks Putin to clarify Russia’s position on Libya and claims in Western media that Russia plays a disruptive role there. “Do you believe everything they write,” Putin jokes. “Read what they write about Turkey.” The president reminded that the poor state of current Libya is to be blamed on the NATO intervention and the West’s decision to pervert a UN Security Council resolution to justify its bombing campaign, to which Russia objected. Russia believes that the priority question for Libyans is to reconcile warring parties and stop violence and is trying to contribute to the process.

11:37 GMT There will be no major changes in the Russian pension system, the reform is over, Putin assures a concerned journalist. But there is some fine-tuning to be done.

11:42 GMT Putin is asked if Russia should restrict its migration policies and whether it is wise to use migrants to compensate for low birth rates in Russia. He said the government can help alleviate tensions between Russian citizens and migrants by promoting Russian culture in the biggest donor countries. It will help guest workers better adapt to conditions in Russia and reduce frictions. The economy requires migrant labor, so there is work to be done in Russia to keep the negative aspects in check.

11:50 GMT A journalist, who is also involved in charity work to help sick children, asks for more government help in that area. Putin says there is a positive trend in terms of child recovery rates in the Russian healthcare system, before returning to a previous question about the democratic situation and government efforts to improve it. As for treatment of children, it’s obvious that it requires special care from the government. There was a big media scandal in Russia recently over children with rare conditions, who need heavily regulated imported medicines for treatment. Changes were made into law to make imports easier.

11:53 GMT A journalist asked about a recent law on domestic abuse, which sparked protests among the conservative part of Russian society, which saw it as an attack on the institution of family. Putin said putting public pressure on unhappy couples to stay together was wrong and domestic violence was absolutely unacceptable, especially when children become the victims. This particular law and opposition to it will need additional consideration.

11:55 GMT A journalist calls on Putin to make December 31 a national holiday. “Our wives will thank you,” he said. “It’ would be better if they thank you,” the president joked, adding that the idea seemed sensible, in his opinion.

11:59 GMT Another question comes about life-saving drugs that patients can’t get due to red tape. Putin details some measures that the government will be implementing to improve the situation and adds that the problem with imported drugs would be less acute as domestic production develops.

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12:04 GMT Bashkortostan, one of Russia’s regions near the Urals Mountains, has been imposing heavier restrictions on sale of alcohol drinks to discourage abuse. Putin hailed Russia’s successes in reducing alcohol consumption, a major contributor to improve life expectancies, adding that this result didn’t require a heavy-handed crackdown.

12:09 GMT Putin assured that the Russian internet is reasonably free and said Russia’s work to prepare the national infrastructure to work isolated from the rest of the world is a contingency for a possible attack, not part of a plan to cut itself. He added Russia’s law on foreign agents is far less punitive than the corresponding legislation in the US. It is necessary to expose political action groups, which act on behalf of foreign funders and fail to disclose that fact to Russians. The recent changes that subjected individuals is closing a loophole that allowed organizations to circumvent the law.

12:13 GMT Asked about when Russians would see a big boost in wages, Putin said it requires a corresponding growth in economy.

12:15 GMT Putin is asked about infrastructure build-up in Russia and whether a particular bridge project would get government funding. He said it requires a comprehensive approach and that the government is working on it.

12:21 GMT Two major terrorism crises – the Beslan hostage crisis and the Moscow theater siege – were the worst moments that Putin had while in office, he says. He wouldn’t name a specific best moment, but said seeing Russia’s transformation over the decades was most fulfilling. Asked if he considered himself a historic figure, the president said it was up to future generations to make a judgement on his legacy. How Russia endured and remade itself into a strong dignified nation is a matter of pride for all Russians, he added.

12:29 GMT A Japanese journalist voiced his concern about Russia’s nuclear weapons and the promise to counter any US development of its arsenal with likewise measures. There are also concerns in Tokyo about Russia’s closeness to China and what it may mean for Japan, a military ally of the United States. Russia cannot ignore the military developments initiated by the US, including those that involve JapanPutin said. It doesn’t mean there may not be some kind of agreement between Moscow and Japan and Russia is willing to try. There is no intention in Russia to enter into a military alliance with China. Moscow considers an attempt to create a US-aligned military bloc in Russia counterproductive. Russia is helping China to create an early missile launch warning system, which is purely defensive in nature and will help Beijing defend itself.

12:34 GMT A BBC correspondent asks about PM Boris Johnson and whether Putin found his past remarks about himself offensive. He was also interested in alleged Russian meddling in British politics. Personal remarks, Putin said, are irrelevant compared to the fundamental needs of Russia, which he seeks to defend. A person who struggles to get in power may say things that a person in charge of a country will not. He can only congratulate Johnson with his recent general election victory. Russia wants to improve economic relations with Britain, work with London on various global issues where their interests align. As for the meddling, Moscow says if Britain reserves the right to speak on domestic affairs of Russia, so does Russia about domestic affairs of Britain. Whether it should be considered meddling or not is a personal choice.

12:36 GMT Putin is asked about how Russian farmers may get additional help and suggests development of leasing may benefit agriculture.

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12:42 GMT A journalist asks Putin to pay special attention to air pollution in Krasnoyarsk and to the plights of a historic hospital in St. Petersburg. The president said he will get in touch with relevant governors before discussing in detail wildfires, a major source of pollution.

12:50 GMT A reporter tells Putin his newspaper recently exposed a scam in Sochi involving government-funded housing provided to war veterans and asks him to intervene. The president said he was not aware of this particular scandal and said he expected the city’s new mayor to respond to it.

12:52 GMT A bridge currently being built in the Samara region will help boost Russia’s cooperation with China, considering that it will be part of a road connection between western China and Europe, Putin told an inquisitive journalist.

12:56 GMT A reporter from Belarus thanks Putin for awarding his grandfather, a war veteran, and invites him and his Belarussian counterpart Aleksandr Lukashenko to visit his home city. The journalist doesn’t seem to be interested in asking any questions.

12:59 GMT A journalist from Ekaterinburg requests Putin’s help in funding the development of the metro in the city. Putin said federal funding was obviously required to help regional authorities for such major construction projects and that the Russian government was working on it.

13:02 GMT Asked if he saw a woman serving as the president of Russia, Putin said gender was irrelevant, compared to competence and integrity. Women certainly have a feminine touch that would be most welcome in a politician.

13:04 GMT A sex education book author puzzles the audience, including the president, with a claim that many Russians were conceiving children “my way.” “Is it different for ours?” Putin asked.

13:08 GMT A correspondent from the Russian international network Sputnik complained that the government of Estonia has launched a major attack on the local Sputnik outlet, including threatening its employees with sanctions unless they resign. Putin said there was little that the Russian government could do in this situation. Of course such attacks on the media are cynical, but if Russia responded by imposing sanctions on Estonia, it would only feed the anti-Russian narrative. The Estonian government is apparently scared of the reporting done by Sputnik journalists if they resort to such drastic measures, he added, promising to support Sputnik journalists.

13:12 GMT A young journalist uses her time to invite Putin to an event that her outlet organizes each year and asks who she can ask to organize a visit. “Here is the boss,” Putin says, pointing to his spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, who serves as the moderator of the event.

13:13 GMT Putin promised there will be no more need to raise the retirement age in Russia in the foreseeable future and said pensions in the country will continue to grow.

13:16 GMT A journalist from Altai asks for help in building a school, where teaching is done in the Altai language of the original residents of the region. Putin promised help will be coming.

13:23 GMT Putin is asked about his daughters and whether he was going to recognize them publicly. Two women, who are widely presumed to be the president’s children, are public figures. The journalist alleged that they benefit from the relationship, stopping short of saying that it was done in a corrupt way. Putin responded to the de-facto accusation, saying it was misleading and possibly misinformed.

13:25 GMT The president was asked about the relationships between ethnic groups in Russia and said this issue was one of the most crucial, citing the suffering caused by ethnic conflicts and the grudges left by the persecutions of some people by the Soviet Union.

13:29 GMT Putin goes into the complexities of ethnic identities, citing the example of Ukrainian identity, which, he said was more or less invented, including by Polish thinkers who claimed Ukrainians were not even a Slav people. This is true, but it doesn’t make the identity any less real, Putin said, adding that it deserves respect.

13:33 GMT The presser ends. This year it lasted for about 4 hours and 30 minutes, beating most of Putin’s previous big conferences.