Having weathered the worst of an economic storm, Russian President Vladimir Putin reveals positivity and enthusiasm during marathon Q & A
In a marathon Q & A session on Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin offered once again to normalize relations with the West, suggesting Washington treat Russia as an equal, rather than some "vassal" state. The Russian president also boasted of real progress for the Russian economy in the face of tough times over the past months.
In a schedule sit down with the Russian public, Putin also defended the delivery of a long-range air defense missile system to Iran. Vowing to continue to hammer out a solution over Iran's hotly contested nuclear programs, Putin spoke of rewarding Tehran's recent compromises. In a four-hour national broadcast, the Russian leader was characteristically stern, decisive, and charming toward the myriad callers and questioners in the studio and remote from all parts of Russia. The main message most received is that Putin is firmly in charge, and that Russia's economy is far more resilient than Western media and politicians have characterized.
Despite leading questions about America's or Britain's roles as antagonists of Russia, Putin stayed firm in characteriszing Russia's only enemies as terrorists of one kind or another. The broadcast was focused predominantly on the economy, but Putin also addressed many of the pressing issues citizens have within the country. On the economy, the Russian ruble regaining a big chunk of its devastating loss of value seems most significant. Growth in key sectors was also a bullish area of commentary from Putin, while the plight of many SME's seemed an acute ill the president appeared focused on fixing.
Of interest to many in the West, Russia resending the 2010 ban on the delivery of the S-300 air defense missile system to Tehran is a bit controversial. Putin said Iran has illustrated "a great degree of flexibility and a desire to reach compromise" in recent talks, and added the fact the S-300 is a defensive weapon to belay complaints from Israel and Saudi Arabia in particular.
Putin further dismissed west sanctions on Russia as "useless and senseless," but avoided the trap of going so far as to name the US and EU as enemies of Russia. He went on to explain, "Ukraine's integrity will depend to a large extent on flexibility and political wisdom of the leadership in Kiev." On Ukraine overall, the Russian president's proclamation that he considers Ukrainians as ethnically "Russian" after all, was a poignant if largely ignored statement. Western press this morning has made little of Putin's seemingly heartfelt outreach to Russia's neighbor. On Russia's intentions to pursue weapons modernaization, Putin gave assurances that by 2020 Russian service people would be the best equipped. On Russian aggression, he simply rebuked any such suggestion saying, "We have no intention to rebuild an empire, we have no imperial ambitions."
Putin received some 3 million questions from mostly Russian citizens, with some experts and media mixed in via live feeds. Two poignant moments occurred, one acutely funny and touching, the other acutely serious and urgent. In the former, a woman asked Putin how she could give a dog to a friend whose husband — a retired army colonel - doesn't want one. She asked the Russia's commander in chief to order the man to change his mind. Putin, put on the spot, reacted with characteristic wit and calm. Using Russian humor the president suggested the colonel appease the wife by buying an elephant, or perhaps a fur coat - then he laughed and acquiesced that perhaps "she" and the Russian president could "plead" with the good Colonel to buy his wife a dog. The audience erupted.
In the latter case, a Russian woman, clearly shaken, was shown via video begging Mr. Putin for help fighting wildfires in the Khakasia Region. Broadcasts live on Channel One, Rossiya-1 and Rossiya-24 TV channels, and Mayak, showed the woman's segment via a feed to the audience including Putin. Weeping pitifully, the woman begged, "Please help us." At this the tough Russian leader appeared to break into emergency mode questioning back, "Where are the fires now, what is your situation?" To onlookers it appeared that Russia's leader would send in more choppers or some other emergency measures to assuage the woman's fears. The RT anchors cautioned Putin, "It is a recorded video Mr. President, she cannot hear you." At this Putin made a solemn declaration, "By September your homes will be rebuilt," he assured the people of the region.
In summary, Putin's answers to some 74 questions revealed more about the current situation in Russia than 10 times as many sound bites. On the economy, it is significant to note that Alexei Kudrin was one of those quesitoning the Russian president. Kudrin, one of Russia's most respected ecomomic experts, is a man not always on the same page as Putin, so the exchange was keenly watched. That Kudrin-Putin exchange can be read at the Kremlin website, but the most important takeaway was that Putin calmed many fears in this segment.
All in all, given the breadth of questioning, Putin once again displayed his uncanny ability to shoot from the hip, regardless of impromptu subject matter. Well orchestrated by the networks involved, the Q & A was also quite a stunning visual spectacle, reflecting in a way the scope of Russia's diverse population. Of course much is being made this morning of TIME magazine's most prominent world celebrity too.