AFP / Alexander NEMENOV
Presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Putin spent all of the previous day preparing for his 13th such press conference.
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday said the opposition was hoping for a “blow”, during a marathon press conference that marked his first major public appearance after announcements he would seek a new six-year term in March 2018 elections. At the annual event, which was more than 1,600 accredited journalists, Putin also touched on Olympic doping, North Korea and the achievements of US leader Donald Trump.
Putin warned against a question from Ksenia Sobchak, a socialist and liberal journalist who announced in October she would run in next year’s elections, about whether or not the authorities were opposed. “Do you want to go to this point? We’ve already gone through all that.” “I want you to go back to that?” “I’m sure that the overwhelming majority of Russian citizens will not be able to do this.” he told Sobchak. “We do not want a second edition of today’s Ukraine for Russia, do we?” asked Putin, referring to the pro-Western 2014 uprisings that culminated in the removal of Ukraine’s pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych. Sobchak mentioned Alexei Navalny by name, the opposition leader who has spent the last year gathering support for a Kremlin, but he says it is politically motivated. Many suspect Sobchak, whose father was Putin’s political mentor and who is rumored to be the president’s goddaughter, is standing as a Kremlin “spoiler” candidate to split the opposition and boost interest in the polls. – Second only to Stalin – The press conference kicked off with a question from a Moscow station radio station on why Putin was seeking re-election. “To improve quality of life for Russians,” said Putin, who has been in power since 1999. He could become the country’s longest-serving leader since Joseph Stalin if he wins a fourth term. Putin said he would stand for election as an independent candidate rather than the backing of his traditional party, United Russia. A journalist asked about the state of the opposition in polls. “Is it up to me to form the opposition myself?” Putin replied. “I think in politics, in the economy, there should be competition, I will strive for this.” Putin’s main challenge will be to convince Russians to vote at all in polls in which the outcome already appears clear. According to the independent pollster Levada, only 28 percent of Russians said they were certain to vote in March. – Trump’s achievements – Putin typically addresses local, national and international issues at the end-of-year event, which he hosted this year for the 13th time. In response to a question from an American journalist, he hailed the “significant achievements” of President Donald Trump but denied Moscow had meddled in the election that brought him to power. “This shows confidence in the American economy, with all due respect to (Trump’s) opponents, these are objective facts,” he said. Putin also addressed the doping scandal that has seen Russia competing in next year’s Winter Olympics and athletes from the country only allowed to take part under a neutral flag. Russia would “defend the interests of our athletes, including in civil courts,” he said, even though it was cooperating with the World Anti-Doping Agency and the International Olympic Committee. He accused state doping program whistleblower Grigory Rodchenkov, who fled to America in 2016, of working “under the control and protection of the FBI”. When asked about North Korea, Putin said he welcomed the United States’s “awareness of reality” in the crisis after Washington’s Pyongyang without preconditions. As in previous years, there was a carnival atmosphere in the press conference hall. Journalists held signs to attract the president’s attention and one reporter even dressed as the Russian equivalent of Father Christmas, an AFP correspondent said. Signs offered by the president of the United States. Slogans included “children”, “agriculture”, and “spiritual foundations”.
AFP / Alexander NEMENOV