Russian President Vladimir Putin expounded on the sinking ruble, the annexation of Crimea and his love life in a three-hour press conference on Thursday.
Putin fielded questions from a crowd of over a thousand reporters in what has become an annual December tradition. While short in comparison to 2013’s four-and-a-half-hour broadcast, Putin managed to cover a broad range of topics as he sought to reassure an anxious and increasingly cash-strapped Russian public.
In vigorous tones, he pointed to Russia’s successes in 2014 — “We won the Olympics!” — and spoke highly of partnerships with China, Turkey and Iran, affirming that the demand for Russian oil would soon return.
On Russia’s declining currency, Putin estimated that only “25 to 30 percent of the economic problem is the effect of sanctions” imposed by the U.S. and European Union. But the rest, he insisted, is due to hostile “external forces,” and to the falling cost of oil, which dominates Russia’s economy. Putin urged the country to diversify its growth, all while praising its rising birthrate and congratulating its “hardworking peasants” on a “record harvest.”
British and Ukrainian reporters asked about the presence of Russian troops in eastern Ukraine, which Putin has never admitted. In his responses, he called pro-Russian fighters in the region “volunteers, not mercenaries,” and insisted on Russia’s right to “defend its own interests.” He also criticized American overreach around the world, pointing out the United States’ vast defense budget and many overseas bases: “and you say we’re pursuing an aggressive policy?”
The event was full of Putin’s famously colorful turns of phrase. In an extended discussion of Russia’s role in the world, he called the country “a little bear,” whose critics would encourage to “sit quietly and eat berries, not chasing piglets through the taiga,” only to “chain him” and “rip out his claws and teeth.” And when asked about the difference between “patriotic opposition” and a conspiratorial “fifth column,” he repeatedly mentioned the politically active 19th-century poet Mikhail Lermontov.
Journalists from many of Russia’s far-flung regions were also in attendance, leading to some unexpected moments. One man asked why his hometown’s brand of kvas, a soft drink similar to beer, had difficulty getting to supermarket shelves; in his reply, Putin emphasized how much healthier kvas is than Coca-Cola. (Wits on Twitter quickly found the company’s salacious commercials, suggesting they violated Russia’s laws against “homosexual propaganda.”) Another reporter, from the “First Arctic Channel,” raised concerns from the far-northern Yamal Peninsula.
And a woman asked a question from her aunt’s friend, asking if Putin “has love in [his] life.” He said his relationship with his ex-wife Ludmila was cordial, and that Russians shouldn’t worry: “everything is fine.”
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