Vladimir Putin held his annual televised “Direct Line” marathon Q&A session Thursday, spending nearly four hours answering caller and in-person questions. And the Russian president didn’t miss the opportunity to once again position himself among the world’s finest trolls.
Asked about the ongoing Russia-related saga surrounding U.S. President Trump and his former campaign staff, Putin responded with his typical mix of sarcasm and bemusement.
“It sounds very strange when the head of the security services writes down a conversation with the commander-in-chief and then leaks it to the media through his friend,” Putin said. “[W]e’d be ready to offer political asylum to Mr. Comey if he is persecuted.”
More than 2 million questions were submitted this year, according to the Russian government-controlled news agency, Sputnik.
Everyone from a self-described pro-Russian American from Arizona battling “Russophobia” in the U.S., to a 12-year-old girl pondering time machines, to a woman recovering from giving birth that same day, had their moment in the sun with the Russian leader. Below are the key moments.
Putin said he was fine with the recent wave of protests that have swept Russia “as long as they are aimed at solving problems and not promoting political figures,” according to the Russian media outlet RT. The comment was a clear jab at rising political opponent Alexei Navalny, the anti-corruption leader furiously campaigning against Putin.
Navalny is a controversial figure in Russia, and has drawn the ire of Putin and his supporters. He was jailed after his latest protest, and has suffered regular physical attacks during his run as Putin’s chief menesis. In March he was doused in blinding green liquid while walking in the Siberian city of Barnaul.
“We have always lived under sanctions… if it hadn’t been Crimea, they would’ve made something up.” Putin seemed entirely unconcerned with the economic impact of sanctions from the international community, chiefly from the EU and the U.S.. When asked by a worried Russian man about their economic impact, Putin said that sanctions forced Russians to innovate, to “use our brains,” and that sanctions proved how much Russia mattered in world affairs.
Putin acknowledged there were “hundreds of thousands” of people living in poverty in Russia, but his gesture of sympathy was more than a touch misleading. A recent World Bank report reveals that more than 20 million Russians live in poverty.
Apparently war is a training opportunity for Russia. Putin told viewers that the Syrian war provided the Russian armed forces with a “valuable experience” and that it allowed them to achieve a “new level of combat-readiness.”
Russia has played a critical, if controversial, role in the Syrian conflict, supplying weapons and military equipment to a government that’s been repeatedly accused of war crimes. Russia has further faced harsh criticism for its conduct in Syria, and has blocked numerous measures from the U.N. Security Council to condemn Syrian leader Bashar Assad and company throughout the six-year civil war.
Putin said Russia didn’t consider the U.S. its enemy but rather blamed “internal politics” and hysteria for encouraging “Russophobia.”
He also added that he hoped to work with the U.S. on a variety of issues, including Ukraine, nuclear nonproliferation, and even environmental protection. “We have a lot of areas to work together. We are open for constructive dialogue,” he said.
Those awkward moments
Putin’s marathon public performance wasn’t without its mechanical hiccups and awkward slip-ups. Critical, often angry, viewer comments slipped in throughout the broadcast, revealing a more uncensored and less praising Russian attitude.
One public comment that appeared on-screen condemned Putin’s lengthy tenure atop Russian politics: “Three presidential terms is enough!”
Another read “”WHERE IS MEDVEDEV? YOU SHOULD’VE VACCINATED HIM!”
And perhaps the most glaring slip-up was when another commenter decried Putin’s constitution-defying reign: “When will you stop violating the constitutional maximum of two presidential terms?” Putin, now in his third term, has managed to circumvent constitutional caps through amendments made in 2008.