Putin’s year-end press conference: what he discussed
Russian President Vladimir Putin held his annual year-end press conference in Moscow on Thursday, amid rising tensions with the West over Ukraine raised fears of all-out war.
Due to Covid-19 restrictions, the media were unable to apply for accreditation for the event for the first time since it was first held in 2001. Instead, the Kremlin hand-selected around 500 journalists international and national to participate. A number of critical independent media outlets, including Novaya Gazeta – whose editor shared the Nobel Peace Prize this year – said they had not received any invitations.
In addition to the Ukrainian crisis, reporters asked Putin on topics ranging from the Russian crackdown on civil society and the effect of the coronavirus pandemic on the economy to his relationship with Russian Santa Claus during the almost four hour event.
Here are the main topics he covered:
On tensions with the West over Ukraine
Several questions were devoted to the situation with Ukraine, with Putin attacking Kiev and its Western allies for causing the recent rise in tensions and demanding that the West give Russia security guarantees “now” .
But he expressed optimism about talks with Washington over the series of security guarantees offered by Moscow that aim to exclude NATO from much of the post-Soviet world.
He called the ongoing negotiations with the United States “positive” and hinted at further direct talks in Geneva in the new year, saying: “The ball is in their court. “
The West accuses Russia of plotting to invade Ukraine, which has been fighting pro-Moscow separatists in its eastern Donbass region since 2014.
Asked about the situation with Ukraine and whether a war was realistic, Putin replied that Russia was responding to threats from Kiev. He called the 2014 Maidan revolution a âbloody coupâ and accused Ukrainian âextremistsâ of planning operations to retake Crimea and Donbas.
âWe need to think about the prospects for our own security. We have to keep an eye on what is happening in Ukraine and when they might attack, âhe said.
Putin touched on the plight of the people of Donbass and stressed that only the people of the region should determine its future, adding that Russia is ready to act as a mediator to “create a better future for the people who live there. “.
Putin claimed that Ukraine “refused to speak” to representatives of Donbass and pointed the finger at Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who he said came to power after promising to end the war and implement the Minsk agreements, but which since âhas fallen under the influence of radical elements. . “
In response to a question about Moscow’s tensions with the West, Putin said his country’s actions would not depend on talks with the United States on the security guarantees he offers, but on “the unconditional provision of the security of Russia â.
He stressed that NATO’s expansion to the east was “unacceptable” and continued to criticize the United States, which he said had “brazenly lied” about the “five waves of expansion” of the United States. ‘NATO.
âThe United States is placing rockets on our doorstepâ¦ How would the United States react if we delivered rockets near their borders with Canada or Mexico? he said.
On the coronavirus
With the end of the second year of the pandemic and Russia’s excess death toll among the highest in the world, the coronavirus was a constant presence throughout the press conference.
Putin lamented Russia’s low vaccination rate – currently around 45% of adults after a year-long vaccination campaign – and blamed him for the country’s Covid-19 death rate, itself the one of the highest in the world.
Polls have shown that a consistent, albeit decreasing, majority of Russians are suspicious of the vaccine and do not plan to be vaccinated.
However, Putin reiterated his longstanding opposition to vaccination mandates, saying those who are reluctant to vaccinate should be treated “with respect” and “explained” to the problem.
Nonetheless, the president singled out critics of the vaccination, whom he accused of using the problem to boost their public profile and of being “dishonest.” Opposition in the Russian Communist Party has taken advantage of anti-vaccine and anti-containment sentiment to slightly increase its own opinion polls in recent months.
On the economy
The first questions of the press conference were devoted to the Russian economy, which has returned to its pre-coronavirus state but has slowed down in recent months.
Putin said Russia has recovered from the pandemic better than many developed countries, listed a number of economic statistics and said he expected real incomes – which are around 10% lower. compared to 2013 – increasing by 3.5% this year. But he cited rising inflation and the country’s demographics as major challenges facing the economy.
Inflation is currently at a six-year high of 8.4% and he said Russian business leaders complained to him every day about the high interest rates introduced by the central bank to control rising prices. However, he defended the policy of the Central Bank and its independence.
“You can ‘scold’ the Central Bank for raising rates – as representatives of the real economy do, not in front of the camera, but in meetings with me – but if you don’t, it will be as Turkey, âPutin said, referring to the extreme volatility of the Turkish lira in recent weeks after his central bank cut interest rates despite high inflation.
The president also said that Gazprom was not to blame for registration gas prices in Europe and called on countries to sign long-term agreements with Russia’s state-controlled gas company if it is to guarantee stable supplies at fixed prices.
âWith long-term contracts, the prices are three, four or even seven times cheaper,â Putin said. In recent years, Europe has turned to shorter-term agreements that offer more flexibility, but require buying more gas at market prices. “I see these accusations that Gazprom has not reserved additional capacity on the Yamal-Europe link. This is because the buyers did not place any purchase orders.
On cancel culture
Putin reiterated his long-standing contempt for Western “liberal” values ââand defended so-called “traditional values” in response to a question from state broadcaster RT about the culture of cancellation and the controversy surrounding the comments. from “Harry Potter” author JK Rowling on Transgender People.
“I adhere to the traditional approach – a woman is a woman, a man is a man, a mother is a mother, a father is a father,” Putin said, adding that he hoped the Russians had enough defenses against Fluid gender “obscurantism”.
In his response, Putin said the cancellation culture was “like the coronavirus”, with new variants appearing frequently,Adding that following traditional values ââwas the âantidoteâ offered by Russia.
On the poisoning of Navalny and the repression of Russian civil society
Putin urged Western governments to “turn a page” on the poisoning of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny and called for help from civil society to investigate cases of torture in Russian prisons.
He claimed without evidence that Western countries failed to provide evidence of Navalny’s poisoning in August 2020 with the nerve agent Novichok in Siberia.
âGive us a reason to open a criminal case. But if there is nothing to answer, let’s turn this page, âPutin said. “This Novichok or whatever – at least give us [samples]”, said Putin.
Putin hinted that Navalny served “foreign interests” which he compared to figures who “destroyed” the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union “from within”, and accused the activist of using policy as a “shield” against his criminal conviction.
Navalny returned to Russia in early 2021, where he was quickly sentenced to 2.5 years in prison for violation of parole while recovering abroad.
Asked about Russia’s characterization of independent media and NGOs as “foreign agents” this year, he said such legislation originated in the United States in the 1930s and asserted that the Russian law on ” foreign agents “is more liberal than its Western counterparts.
Putin also addressed the high-profile video leaks showing alleged rape and torture inside the Russian prison system which has caught the country’s attention this year.
After claiming that torture in prison also exists in the United States and France, Putin said Russian authorities have opened 17 criminal cases following the torture leaks.
On Russian foreign policy
In addition to hosting reporters from the national media, Putin answered questions from the British, Italian, Kazakh, Chinese and Belarusian media. In the responses to the last three, he highlighted Russia’s strong and friendly economic and cultural relations with their respective countries.
To an Italian journalist, Putin said that despite Italy’s membership in NATO and the EU, he hoped for continued cooperation with the country in various fields. Meanwhile, he criticized a British Sky News reporter for what he called the West’s hostile foreign policy towards Russia.
Asked about Russia’s relations with the new Taliban regime in Afghanistan, he did not say whether Russia would recognize the new government in Kabul, but said he hoped the situation in the country would be stable and warned against the penetration of extremists in the border republics of Central Asia. He also called on the West to unfreeze Afghanistan’s financial holdings, saying the country is on the brink of a widespread humanitarian crisis.
Putin also discussed closer integration with Belarus and its besieged leader Alexander Lukashenko. Moscow and Minsk are working on a number of proposals for closer integration of the two countries, with Russia having emerged as Belarus’ main financial and political backer amid the Lukashenko regime’s widespread international isolation over the past year. .
âWe are building a ‘State of the Union’,â Putin said, but noted that the level of integration between Russia and Belarus was âat a much lower level than the European Union. It is incomparable.
About Father Frost
In an unexpected turn of events, Putin was asked about his relationship with Cold father – the Russian version of Santa Claus. The question was asked by a journalist based in Veliky Ustyug – a city in northwestern Russia that is home to the mythical figure.
Putin thanked Father Frost for helping him become president and urged the mythical figure to help carry out Moscow’s plans.