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Putin's lies 6 of the most outrageous untruths from yesterday's press conference

Meduza
Photo: Kremlin press service

Vladimir Putin spent three hours answering journalists' questions yesterday at his annual press conference. Several times during that marathon, he played fast and loose with facts and statistics. Meduza highlights some of the most egregious untruths.

Cargo trucks and passenger vehicles pay the same vehicle tax.

In Putin's words: “A motor vehicle tax is the same for passenger cars and trucks weighing 12 tonnes or more. [...] Experts say that during acceleration and braking, 12-tonne trucks do more damage to the road bed than cars. However, they pay the same amount. This proposal seeks to create a level playing field for all types of transport.”

In fact: Tax rates for the owners of trucks and cars are different. By law, the federal government only sets the framework for vehicle tax rates, but regional officials can raise or decrease these rates. If you look at the tax rates set down by regional laws, it's clear that passenger vehicles and cargo trucks pay different taxes. For example, in St. Petersburg, a passenger car between 100 and 150 horsepower pays 35 rubles, while trucks of the same horsepower pay 40 rubles. And sometimes, it so happens, cargo trucks actually pay lower taxes than ordinary cars.

Muscovites can park near their homes for free and everyone is satisfied.

In Putin's words: “And parking is free for people who live in the buildings next to these car parks. I can assure you that the citizens concerned, the Muscovites who live near these car parks, are more in favor of the policy than against it. The charges apply to those who arrive from other districts or other regions: from the Moscow suburbs and so on.”

In fact: Willing Muscovites can obtain a so-called residential permit to park for free near their homes. But this benefit applies only between the hours of 8 p.m. and 8 a.m. For 24-hour parking, you've got to pay 3,000 rubles ($42) a year. Despite Putin's confidence that Muscovites are “more in favor than against” the parking fees, a recent Levada Center survey shows that only in the very center of Moscow does the policy enjoy narrow support (57 percent), whereas residents in Moscow's outskirts oppose the new fees 76 percent to 15 percent. Just this past week, moreover, roughly 1,000 demonstrators gathered in downtown Moscow to protest the parking fees, resulting in several detentions by police.

Tatarstan can decide for itself what the head of its local government is called—"head" or "president."

In Putin's words: “As for the president of Tatarstan, there is a saying in Russia: ‘Call me a pot but heat me not.’ This is Tatarstan’s business. I do not think that this is such a sensitive issue or that it could hurt national feelings. You know the people in the Caucasus always react vehemently to all issues related to their national identity. However, even Chechnya said: no, the country should have only one president, and we will not call the head of the republic this way. This was the choice of the Chechen people. We will respect the choice of the people of Tatarstan. It is up to you to decide, all right?”

In fact: The Chechen people played no role in deciding what to call Ramzan Kadyrov. (He used to be the republic's “president,” whereas today he is the republic's “head.”) There was no referendum. The Chechen parliament merely renamed Kadyrov's position at Kadyrov's own request, which was prompted not by the will of the people, but Kadyrov's own whim. (He decided that only one person in Russia should be called “president,” in a gesture of servility to Putin.)

The Tatar people are also unlikely to get a say in what their republic's leader is called. There is a federal law coming into effect on January 1, 2016, that designates the leaders of Russian republics as “heads” and nothing more. At this point, only the federal government can roll back this reform.

Russian officials didn't know that Turkey opposes the bombing of Syrian Turkmen.

In Putin's words: “You see, I had not heard about the Turkomans (Syrian Turks) before. I knew that Turkmen—our Turkmen—lived in Turkmenistan, and so I was confused… Nobody told us about them. But after we indicated our willingness to cooperate on the issues that are sensitive to Turkey, why didn't they phone us via the cooperation channels between our militaries to say that during our discussions we overlooked a certain part of the border where Turkey has vested interests. They could have expressed their concerns or asked us not to hit certain areas. But nobody said anything.”

In fact: There's no way the Russian authorities didn't know who Syrian Turkmen are. The Turkmen are an ethnic group of Turkic heritage, and are considered to be the third largest minority in Syria. Turkey has traditionally supported the Turkmen. Several days before Turkey shot down a Russian bomber, Turkish officials summoned the Russian ambassador and formally protested Russian airstrikes against Turkmen settlements in Syria.

Foreigners don't want to adopt sick children.

In Putin's words: “Here’s how we will work… Let’s start from the last part of your question. I’d like to point out that according to statistics the number of sick children adopted by foreigners is far below that of healthy ones. No foreigner has ever rushed to adopt our sick children. This is statistics. So let’s not hurry to change the decisions that we’ve already made. This is the first thing.”

In fact: Statistically, foreigners adopt more healthy children than sick or disabled children, but this is a misleading way of looking at the phenomenon, given that adoptions of healthy children are always more common, regardless of foster parents' origins. In 2012, Russian and foreign parents adopted 9,169 children, of whom only 200 were disabled. Of all adoptions by foreign parents, disabled children were adopted 6.6 percent of the time. Among adoptions by Russian parents, however, that figure drops to 0.4 percent. In raw numbers, Russian foster parents adopted 29 children with disabilities in 2012, while foreign parents adopted 171 such children. One in every ten children adopted by American parents that year was disabled.

Russia won't levy sanctions against Ukraine.

In Putin's words: “We are not going to impose any sanctions on Ukraine—I want this to be heard. We are just switching to a most-favored-nation treatment in trade. Which means conditions for Ukraine will not be any worse than those for our other foreign partners.”

In fact: Beginning on January 1, 2016, Russia will levy against Ukraine the same sanctions it currently has against the European Union, the United States, Canada, and other nations that have placed sanctions on Russia for its intervention in Crimea. The Russian government decided on these sanctions against Ukraine back in August 2015.