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Vladimir Putin's Q&A Meduza's live coverage of the President's annual question time

Vladimir Putin's annual Q&A sessions are known to last for several hours. During these marathon events, people from all across Russia get a rare chance to ask a question directly to the president. However, after many years, there's barely any suspense left. It's safe to say that the (presumably) pre-approved queries pose little challenge to the head of state, and if anything, the Q&A's demonstrate Putin's endurance rather than his ability to answer tough questions. Let's see how it plays out this time.

All hail the 4-hour marathon President! Thanks for tuning in, folks.

Kevin, now would be the time for photoshop. We need to go out with a bang!

Is that it? Really? 

I THINK WEʼRE WRAPPING UP HERE, PEOPLE. HOLD ON TO YOUR BUTTS.

Putin says he holds these Q&As because maybe his trust in statistics isnʼt so limitless after all.

Putin says he has no interest in serving as UN General Security. So stop asking, you damned UN fanboys!

Vladimir Putin now sharing his controversial view that he wants Russia to be prosperous. 

Putin now sharing an anecdote about how Gerhard Schröder refused to leave a banya that was on fire, because he hadnʼt finished his beer yet. Those Germans, eh?

Whoʼs the moral conscience of Russia today, like Sakharov of the USSR? Putin says this decision must be made by the people, not him (but he suggests that police officers are good candidates for this role).

Time for rapid-fire Q&A. First question: «Would you like to clone yourself, Mr. Putin?» Answer: «No. Next question.»

Turns out Crimean car-owners still have Ukrainian registrations, and they need to drive into Ukraine to change it somehow and get Russian license plates. Putin promises more ferryboats between Crimea and Russiaʼs mainland, and heʼll look into the car registration problem. «I donʼt know how weʼll do it, but we will».

Putin canʼt pass on the chance to scold the Ukrainians for neglecting Crimea for so long.

Everyoneʼs here, from wine producers to tourism managers. They all seem to want cheapr tickets in order to bring in more tourists come Summer.

A question from the Crimea

Ah, itʼs from a childrenʼs camp. But theyʼre showing grown-ups. Sure.

Discussing pension age, Putin says life expectancy should be taken into account. By setting retirement age at 65, we would be sending people into 'wooden machintoshes,' he says. I canʼt say it an expression Iʼve ever heard. 

Putin just promises to do everything in his power, without going into much detail.

Anna Federmesser, a charity worker and hospice care activist, points out numerous problems of terminally ill patients. She also brings up the question of cancer patients who are unable to get pain management meds due to overregulation.

And no, Russia is not banning foreign medecines, Putin says, although the prices will be rising, due to exchange rate fluctuations.

A woman says her local pharmacy doesnʼt have the medicine her child needs to survive. As always, Putin says all pharmacies should have all the necessary drugs, and he will personally look into why that particular pharmacy is having difficulties.

Why were heads of state corporations allowed to keep their incomes secret? According to Putin, it has to do with the fact that they employ a lot of foreigners, and Russia cannot force them to declare their incomes. And so we shouldnʼt ask Russian managers to do it. Right.

And weʼre back — this kid is asking, is it hard to be President, since he likes to sleep so much

Time for a question from shoolchildren. No twerking, theyʼre just asking to ditch standardized tests in favor of good old oral exams.

Now, a question from small business owners. Not so much America bashing so far, despite Mr. Peskovʼs promises.

An elderly lady from the Far East complains about high car insurance. The President is understanding, but firm. There was a need to raise insurance prices, he says, and it needed to be done. 

3 hours in, 3 million questions.

Question: The spaceport is just as important as Crimea.  Putin seems to agree.

While the TV goes on about wage arrears at the Vostochny Cosmodrome, itʼs important to note that Putin completely ignored Alexey Venediktovʼs question about why investigators have been unable to apprehend or even question some Nemtsov-murder suspects close to Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov.

Now theyʼre going to the Vostochny Cosmodrome, where workers have reached out directly to Putin about wage arrears. Read Meduza's coverage on this story here.

Putin promises more orders from the Kremlin for new warplanes, tells the assembly plant manager not to fret about losing state contracts.

Now weʼre going to Irkutsk at an aircraft assembly plant.

Putin says he expects a refund from the French on the Mistral warships. Russia isnʼt even asking for additional fines, he says, adding that the whole incident smears the reputation of NATO nations.

Venediktov fires back that the Russian president legally has the right to propose renaming the bridge after Nemtsov. Putin says heʼll consider it and will speak to Sobyanin, so donʼt worry about it.

Putin says he has no problem with flowers at Nemtsovʼs murder site, but renaming is a local affair. He says Vytsotsky deserves a steet in his honor.

Venediktov now asking if Putin might help get Bolshoi Moskvoretsky Bridge renamed in Nemtsovʼs honor.

Venediktov says heʼs puzzled how investigators are unable to apprehend Nemtsovʼs murder suspects in certain Russian regions, then they canʼt identify the people who ordered the killing, and then the authorities donʼt allow people to leave flowers at the murder scene.

Alexey Venediktov

Venediktov takes us back to political killings.

Echo of Moscowʼs Venediktov gets the next question.

Putin says ISIS poses no direct threat to Russia, but Moscow is concerned that ISIS-trained operatives could return to Russia.

Putin points out that ISIS emerged in Iraq and Syria. When Iraq wasnʼt «democratic,» there was no ISIS. Then the USA killed Saddam Hussein, and BOOM you get destruction, the sidelining of political minorities, and, now, ISIS.

Question: we know some Russians are fighting in the ranks of ISIS. Russian citizens are being recruited for this army. Is Russia taking any preventative measures against this?

Putin now getting a question about ISIS.

Putin says the governmentʼs plan for providing housing to elderly veterans underestimated their needs. But, of course, Putin will make sure this one couple gets a better apartment—pronto.

An elderly man and his wife, both WWII veterans, leave a video question. They were promised new housing, but it wonʼt arrive before they die, most likely. Will Putin gift them new housing for the 70th anniversary of Victory Day?

Putin tells the young man that, certainly, there will be fancy new killing toys for him and his friends, by the time heʼs old enough to get to it.

Question from a Russian cadet: will there be enough fancy new weaponry to go around, when he gets his chance to pick up a gun and serve?

Next question: all these European leaders who refuse to attend Victory Day celebrations in Moscow, how should Russia respond to such «unfriendly behavior»? Putin says Moscow shouldnʼt dignify this with a response. Putin also insinuates that Washington is pressuring European leaders into avoiding the parade.

Putin says terrorists and international criminals are Russiaʼs enemies. No foreign states are Russiaʼs enemy, and nobody should view Russia as an enemy, Putin says.

«Who are our enemies?» Putin asked.

Note: when asked about Russiaʼs allies, Putin said nothing about the United States or Europe.

We asked about Russiaʼs allies, Putin says Russia must first identify the threats to the nation. When it comes to specific threats, yes, Russia does have allies. (Lists the BRICS and the Shanghai Pact.)

Now weʼre hearing from a Stalingrad verteran, who complains that the Allies waited too long to open a Second Front. He asks if Russia has allies today.

Just for the record, kids, imposing your ways on others = bad. Rows of marching soldiers = badass.

Putin says Russia must come to terms with the USSRʼs mistakes after WWII, when it tried to impose its ways on others. He compares it to the USAʼs contemporary policies around the world, which he says are «doomed.»

Putin now explaining why his WWII-veteran relatives werenʼt like the Nazis. 

Now weʼre moving on to WWII and attempts to «re-write» history by equating the Red Army with the Nazis.

Putin now getting news about the murder of Ukrainian journalist Oles Buzin. «This isnʼt the first political killing,» Putin says, compares it to Nemtsovʼs murder.

Putin cites Yeltsinʼs opposition to the bombing of Yugoslavia, and how the West criticized him for it, and tried to isolate Russia.

Putin says superpowers need «vassals not allies,» but Russia wonʼt submit to this. Russia tried to «open up» in the 1990s, and its hopes were dashed.

Putin doesnʼt seem to understand Remchukovʼs question, says patriotism and nationalism are two different things that shouldnʼt be compared.

Remchukov wonders if Russiaʼs spike in patriotism is leading to a rise in xenophobia. What would it take to normalize relations with the West? Is «patriotism mixed with xenophobia» a problem in Russia?

Newspaper editor Konstantin Remchukov asks the next question.

Putin says all the homes destroyed by the fires will be rebuilt by September 1 of THIS YEAR. 

Putin starts listing all the compensation packages now in place for those who have lost loved ones and property because of the wildfires now consuming parts of Siberia.

Putin didnʼt understand that the question was a recorded video, tries asking the woman a follow-up question.

Now a question from a woman in Krasnoyarsk fire damage. She breaks down into tears, asking for Putinʼs help.

Shells fired from Ukraine that have landed in Russia were «accidental,» Putin explains.

Putin says war between Russia and Ukraine is «impossible.»

Putin says the future of Donetsk and Lugansk depends on the Ukrainian leadership in Kiev.

Putin says Kiev has shown signs that it, too, is interested in resuscitating the Donbas. The coal industry must rebound.

Putin says the first priority for Lugansk and Donetsk is that the regions return to «normal life» and the residents return home.

38,000 Ukrainian refugees now in Rostov, weʼre told. Question: are there any prospects that Lugansk and Donetsk will get independence from Kiev? Whatʼs the future of Novorossiya?

Russia now hears from this child, who explains the shelling of Lugansk.

Now weʼre getting a report from a hotel where several Ukrainian refugee families are currently living.

Putin says Russia has no interest in building an empire. What Russia does isnʼt imperialistic—itʼs the same thing all the Westʼs countries do, but they call it something else when itʼs Moscow acting.

«We canʼt meddle in Ukraine. It would be wrong,» Putin says.

Putin says the election that put Poroshenko in office was a non-violent coup to follow the violent ouster of Yanukovych.

Incidentally, Putin just said «v Ukraine» not «na Ukraine.» (Itʼs like granting them the respect of an independent nation by saying «Ukraine» instead of «the Ukraine.»)

Putin says of the Maidan revolution, «people got tired»—of corruption and a lot else. He compares it to Russia in the 1990s, when people turned to oligarchs and nationalists.

Putin says Russian foreign policy didnʼt fail in Ukraine—Ukrainian domestic policy failed in Ukraine.

«There are no Russian troops in Ukraine.»

Putin says he doesnʼt know yet if there is a mastermind behind Nemtsovʼs murder.

Putin says police discovered the identities of Nemtsovʼs killers within a day, and the rest of the work was apprehending them, though Putin says he wonʼt reveal their methods.

Putin repeats that Nemtsovʼs murder is tragic and shameful.

Putin says itʼs up to the people to decide who gets into the Duma, though he says heʼd welcome (people like Navalny?).

Putin says the opposition can already win elected office, if they can get the publicʼs support. «Itʼs one thing to be in the opposition and criticize everything, but thereʼs no responsibility.»

Irina Khakamada asks if Nemtsovʼs murder was related to his alleged access to facts about Russian troops in Ukraine. «Are there Russian troops in Ukraine?»

Khakamada says Nemtsovʼs murder looks like a terrorist attack, asks Putin to weigh in on this, and on Putinʼs feelings about political prospects for the likes of Navalny, Khodorkovsky, and others. Would such political participation «stabilize» the situation?

Irina Khakamada

Irina Khakamada now speaks, brings up Nemtsovʼs murder.

Putin says the Minsk Accords require that Kiev establishes a working group to manage the various issues discussed in Belarus. Putin laments that this isnʼt happening. The only solution to this crisis is political.

Russia expects only one thing from Kiev today: treat Russia as an equal partner. Yes, they should also respect the rights of ethnic Russians in Ukraine. (Russianness amounts ot language, culture, self identity, and so on.)

Question about Ukrainian nationalism ends with: how do we normalize relations with Ukraine? Putin says it starts with talking about how Ukrainians and Russians are one nation.

Question from the room cites Brodskyʼs poetry on Ukrainian nationalism. People in Ukraine are in danger today, he says, mentions the murder of former Rada member Kalashnikov.

Putin says Russia may be struggling economically today, but holy moly Ukraine is doing far worse.

Putin repeats that he views Russians and Ukrainians as a single people, though he realizes that not everyone agrees with this notion.

Question: why does Russia keep supplying Ukraine with cheap energy and loans, if this is the thanks we get? Putin says, hey now, political situations can change rapidly, but the people in Ukraine—Russiaʼs brothers—will stay.

Putin says Ukraine needs constititionl reforms above all else, but Russia has no plans to impose its views on Ukraine. (But thereʼs no law against expressing its opinions.)

Question: is Putin grossed out by Poroshenko? Is it hard to sit down with him? Putin says, no, he can handle it, saying heʼs said many times that the government in Kiev keeps making big mistakes.

Question: how does Putin work with Poroshenko, when the Ukrainian President tells different things to his own people, to Russia, and to the West? Putin says you donʼt get to choose your negotiating partners.

Putin says Poroshenko never asked Russia to «take the Donbas.» Did it ever happen? «No,» says Putin with a straight face.

AND NOW THE PRESIDENT IS OFFERING RELATIONSHIP ADVICE

Putin fields his most challenging question yet: a woman asking him to lobby her friendʼs husband to allow her to receive a dog as a gift. Putin obliges, of course. 

Is this really happening? Then again, why does it surprise me. 

Putin has received almost half a million questions by MMS.

Click here for a Meduza story from early February about Putin bringing down the hammer on the fools who shut down commuter-train service routes. (They couldnʼt afford them, the jerks.)

A man from Saratov calls in to ask about train routes. Putin says he agrees that the situation with towns' isolation because of disappearing train routes is «unacceptable.» And heʼs on it.

More than 2,800,000 questions have been received for Putinʼs Q&A, the TV lady says. Weʼre 90 minutes in.

Question about people struggling with debts affected by fluctuating foreign exchange rates. Putin says he believes itʼs always important to help people, but maybe people should just borrow in rubles, instead of speculating on the exchange market? Itʼs risky, after all!

Oh look. John Kopiski, the British man who became a Russian farmer, is apparently an admirer of Josef Stalin.

Putin says the S-300 is defensive equipment, so it canʼt be a threat to Israel.

Putin says selling the S-300 is a way of encouraging Iran to stay on the path of rapprochement.

Putin says the Iranians today are demonstrating extraordinary «flexibility.»

Question: will Russia sending S-300s to Iran disrupt Russiaʼs foreign relations?

Putin says heʼll talk to the Kostroma governor to sort out the problems of Stepanovoʼs milk farmers.

These happy farmers are showing off a bottle of milk now, the fruit of their toil.

Putin repeats that he trusts «the statistics.»

Putin says to John the Farmer, «Make no mistake, Iʼm aware of the realities, but understand that there are certain budgetary limitations.»

Joe the Plumber, meet your Russian counterpart: John the Farmer.

Putin points out that Johnʼs been farming so long in Russia that clearly bankruptcy canʼt be that terrible a threat, since he hasnʼt gone belly up yet.

Putin says he trusts the statistics given to him.

Putin asks if John came to Russia because of a woman. (Yes. He did.)

Question: how does Putin know his statisticians arenʼt lying to him?

John says Putinʼs statistics are wrong. «Iʼm sorry if my question is offensive. I love Russia. But I want to be confident in the future of Russia.»

Ok, this is now officially farmer extravaganza

Now weʼre hearing from «John,» an immigrant who came to Russia some twenty-odd years ago to become a farmer.

Putin promises to look into this one single farmerʼs situation. Boy was he lucky to get in a question!

And hereʼs one of the farmers NOW

Putin says he has to answer to producers who want protectionism and subsidies, and to consumers, who want quality goods.

A dairy farmer asks Putin about government-support programs. Why does all the help go to big corporations? President Putin, please «right this wrong!»

Now weʼve cut to a live feed from Stepanova, where a row of local farmers stands shivering in the mud.

New question: Putin, please donʼt lift the agricultural sanctions! (This is a question?)

Putin says itʼs more important to support domestic production than hunt down those responsible for circumventing the sanctions.

Host asks if import substitution is just a farce. «We all know these are Polish apples with new labels.»

Kudrin fires back: we donʼt want to freeze wage adjustments for all public servants, just some. Says his proposals aim to tackle inflation, which define real wages.

Putin says heʼll always listen to Kudrin, who immediately asks a follow-up question.

40 minutes in, Putin mentions the USA for the first time in a comment about its «alarming debt.»

Putin implies that the type of policies recommended by Kudrin would threaten Russians' trust in the government.

Liberals like Kudrin are Russiaʼs «brain,» but Russia also needs its «heart.» Sounds like Pixarʼs upcoming film about emotions.

Putin says the government is still listening to people with views like Kudrinʼs, says the government has frozen some social benefits, but not as much as the liberals would have wanted. Subtext: THE LIBERALS WANT YOU TO STARVE, RUSSIA.

Putin done with the Kudrin browbeating, now listing all the «multi-dimensional» needs of reforms ahead for Russia.

Putin says he knows Kudrinʼs «opposition» well. He considers him a friend. Kudrin is the author of Russiaʼs development plan up to 2020. (Kudrin is still on the hook!)

Kudrin says Russiaʼs old development model is outdated, asks what Russia needs for a new model.

Kudrin says this «lag» will last another three years at least. 

Putinʼs first president term saw 7% growth annually. But this current presidential term, even with oil at $65, Russian GDP would be lower than the world average, and Russiaʼs world economic share would shrink, meaning Russia will lag. Russiaʼs defense industry will decline, too.

Kudrin gets the second question from the floor.

Putin says the government will do more to introduce vocational training in schools.

The man is a candy manufacturer. Putin smiles. The question was about putting young people on a good career path. 

Now weʼre going to the audience for questions. Businessman from Nizhny Tagil gets the first question.

The Q&A is finally finishing with the hosts' questions and is now «brining in the people» and their questions. First one is about wages: y u so low?

Putin says the rubleʼs rebound isnʼt just about oil prices, says experts see that Russia has survived the worst of its problems and pay off its debt.

Question: isnʼt the rubleʼs stabilization just because oil prices are up again?

The ruble has stabilized, so «be patient,» everbody.

Letʼs wait for some of these farmers to suddenly make an appearance. 

Putin giving an extended defense of Russiaʼs Central Bank.

Ooh, it turns out Russian farmers want nothing more than for the sanctions to stay in place. According to their text messages, it would be 'catastrophic' if the sanctions were suddenly lifted. Again, hmmmmm.

As Putin discusses the necessity of political criticism, the camera shoots to Kudrin. ;-)

Putinʼs strategy with sanctions looks like a defiant «make lemonade out of lemons!»

Could Putin have handled the sanctions any differently? «You can always do it differently, but I think we handled it correctly.»

Putin says the Russian economy might be fully recovered from todayʼs unpleasantness even sooner than he predicted six months ago (when he said it would take two years).

Echo of Moscowʼs chief editor, Alexei Venediktov, is also present in the audience.

Putin says an «adjustment» was inevitable in the Russian economy, even without sanctions. 

Hereʼs a picture of Putin entering the studio with an unusually green folder. Does it say RT there somewhere?

Putin says first that not everything he said about the economy was positive. (He didnʼt like the insinuation that he was whitewashing the situation.)

Question: did Putin warn businesspeople that sanctions wonʼt end any time soon?

Question: Putin just listed a bunch of positive macroeconomic figures, but what about the common person?

As is former Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin.

Nemtsovʼs old political ally Irina Khakamada is in the audience.

Putin mentions all the big hits: Crimea, the Sochi Olympics, industrial achievements in a difficult world economy, oil production at record highs, rising investments.

Weʼre gonna kick off with a «traditionally broad» question asking Putin to «sum up» the year.

Hello, everybody! Weʼre getting underway now. Putin has entered the studio. Itʼs glass walls and about 9 million people on hand to take questions for the Russian President.

IT HAS BEGUN

No Putin yet

Ok, weʼre joined by our own Kevin Rothrock. Heʼs going to do the talking, and Iʼll do the bossing around. We donʼt want the American to doom us all with his trademark sense of humor and superior PhotoShop skills, do we? Over yo you, Kevin!

NATO bashing

Yes, everyone seems sure that many questions will address Russiaʼs foreign policy, and its relations with the West. Brace yourselves, readers, youʼre in for a treat!

Hereʼs the link by the way

If you happen to read any Russian, you might want to check out Meduzaʼs Russian live blog — at least to try your luck in our annual Putin Bingo

Itʼs time for a picture, but Kevinʼs not up yet. It IS 5am in the US, after all.

Usually a fair share of the questions deal with issues such as housing and electricity bills. A lot of people choose to use the spotlight to declare their admiration for the President. Today, according to Peskov, the questions will focus more on policy and Russiaʼs worsening relations with the West.

The event starts in less than 30 minutes, but the broadcast is already underway. For now theyʼre interviewing Dmitry Peskov, the spokesman to the President. He seems keen to stress that every Q&A is somehow different from the previous ones. Hmmmm.

Good morning!

Welcome to Meduzaʼs live coverage of Vladimir Putinʼs annual Q&A.