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Navalny is the Russian Saakashvili, Trump is a buddy, and Sechin didn't break any laws Meduza briefly summarizes everything important from Vladimir Putin's annual press conference

Meduza
14:35, 14 december 2017

Mikhail Mettsel / TASS / Scanpix / LETA

What follows is a retelling of Vladimir Putin’s 13th annual press conference, held in Moscow on December 14. Anything the president said verbatim is in quotation marks. The rest is paraphrased.

Elections

The main focus of my campaign platform, which isn’t yet finished, is infrastructure, healthcare, education, labor productivity, and raising national income levels. Why am I so unrivaled in politics? Russia has come so far that young people don’t even remember the 1990s. Since the early 2000s, our GDP is up 75 percent, and we’ve raised production levels, wages, and life expectancy, and reduced the mortality rate. We used to live in a state of civil war (in the North Caucasus), but “now just look at the kind of army we have.” “It’s about more than just making a bunch of noise in the streets” — you’ve got to offer something to people. I’ll be running as an independent, not from any political party.

I’m accused of micromanaging the country, but that’s an exaggerated myth. The most complex work happens in my cabinet, which has served me adequately, by the way. After the presidential election, however, “I have some ideas.” When I speak with the people, I’m simply communicating with citizens, but this is in addition to my main work. We haven't yet managed to overcome corruption. In one case, six months ago, the Federal Security Service purged a whole department and recruited entirely new staff, but “everything just started all over again.” We probably need to impose mandatory rotation, like we have in the army.

Ksenia Sobchak is running on a platform of “against all.” This is her idea of a proactive agenda? Alexey Navalny [whose name Putin once again never uttered explicitly] is a Russian version of Mikheil Saakashvili who wants to run around occupying public squares. “The absolute majority of Russians don’t want any part of this.” That said, there are opposition candidates in Russia’s elections, and the authorities aren’t scared of them. “We don’t want a second edition of Ukraine for Russia. We don’t want this, and we won’t allow it.”

The economy

My May 2012 orders set the right guidelines, even if we haven’t met all the targets. (So far, we’ve only achieved 93 percent!) I’m confident that we’ll implement everything fully in 2018. Whatever we do, the “shock therapy” of the 1990s is no solution. The retirement age is rising everywhere, but we haven’t raised it yet. “But where do we put these people who aren’t working anymore?” We must release individuals and individual entrepreneurs from penalties on overdue back taxes and stop taxing pensioners on their dachas and private gardens.

It’s not true that my friends win all the lucrative state contracts. I don’t make these decisions — the government does, relying on expert analysis. Rosneft’s 350 billion rubles ($6 billion) in tax breaks at the Samotlor oil field are perfectly legitimate.

Foreign policy

In the news media, the Americans accuse us of withdrawing from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, while the U.S. itself indirectly violates this agreement. “We’re not planning on going anywhere.” Our military spending is needed to ensure national security, and we see what can result from the actions of other countries. Defense spending in the United States is 20 times higher, and we won’t get dragged into an arms race.

The doping scandal is being hyped up because of Russia’s coming presidential election. “I simply know that this is the case.” The foreign athletes are doping. We will defend our athletes in court. WADA informer Grigory Rodchenkov “dragged all this crap from North America” for Russian athletes. Our institutions’ mistake was hiring Rodchenkov in the first place. “I know who did this.” [Putin never specified how those responsible for this mistake will be punished.] How on Earth could the International Olympic Committee use his testimony? What kind of drugs are the American intelligence agents supplying to get him to say what they want to hear?

All the supposed ties between Russia and Donald Trump’s presidential campaign are a fiction invented by the American opposition. “Do they want to ban all contact, or something?” Meetings between an ambassador and a candidate’s representatives are a normal practice. Why is RT accused of propaganda, if its footprint on the American market is “negligible”? The U.S. puts us on par with North Korea and Iran. “Are you people sane?” America is the one provoking North Korea to develop a missile program. But Trump and I are on a first-name basis now, and we want to get the relationship back on track.

Ukraine

There are no Russian troops in eastern Ukraine. We haven’t been able to broker an agreement on exchanging prisoners or introducing peacekeepers, and Kiev is to blame for all of this, because it refuses to establish contact with the separatists. The situation with Saakashvili is an affront to the Georgian and Ukrainian peoples. “How do you put up with this?” Russia and Ukraine were “first torn apart and then pitted against one another,” but Moscow and Kiev must focus on what’s best for their peoples. “Our historical, spiritual, and other shared roots give me the right to say that we’re basically one people.”

High-profile criminal cases

Ekho Moskvy deputy chief editor Tatyana Felgenhauer, who recently survived a murder attempt in the radio station’s studio, asked Putin why Russia’s legal system operates so differently in different cases, such as the Boris Nemtsov murder trial (where prosecutors never questioned several key witnesses), the corruption case against former Economic Development Minister Alexey Ulyukayev (where the key witness, Rosneft CEO Igor Sechin, ignored multiple subpoenas), and the investigation into “Seventh Studio” (whose suspects have been placed in jail or put under house arrest).

We don’t have different legal systems for different people. “Sechin could have come to court,” but he didn’t break the law. If state investigators think something seems reasonable, then everything is fine.

Text by Mikhail Zelensky, translation by Kevin Rothrock