On December 23, Russian President Vladimir Putin responded to questions from journalists at the annual news conference. The questions addressed diverse issues, such as Russia-U.S. Relations, anti-Russia sanctions, and Russia’s domestic policy. Discussing Russia-U.S relations Putin reiterated that Russia has put "a lot of effort into modernizing Russia’s nuclear missile potential, and our Armed Forces". He added: "This also applies to our Strategic Missile Forces, which are deployed on land; this concerns our sea-based forces; this is all open information, we are not hiding anything. We are deploying new strategic nuclear submarines with new types of missiles on board. This also applies to our air forces. I am referring to both the carriers, i.e. the aircraft, and the strike systems they have under their wings. We operate in strict compliance — I would like to emphasize this — in strict compliance with all of our agreements, including START-3."
Discussing the accusations of Russia having interfered in the U.S. presidential elections, Putin said that the Democratic Party is trying to blame all their failures on outside factors. He said: "They are losing on all fronts and looking for scapegoats on whom to lay the blame. I think that this is an affront to their own dignity. It is important to know how to lose gracefully." Concerning the hacking itself, he stressed that the most important thing is the information that the hackers revealed to the public, not the identity of the hackers. Putin said: "Did they compile or manipulate the data? No, they did not. What is the best proof that the hackers uncovered truthful information? The proof is that after the hackers demonstrated how public opinion had been manipulated within the Democratic Party, against one candidate rather than the other, against candidate Sanders, the Democratic National Committee Chairperson resigned. This means she admitted that the hackers revealed the truth. Instead of apologizing to the voters and saying, ‘Forgive us, our bad, we will never do this again,’ they started yelling about who was behind the attacks. Is that important?"
Not all the questioners were tame pro-Putin journalists and some asked provocative questions about the ostentatious life style of senior officials, the use of the judicial system to muzzle the press and even why Putin thinks he deserves another term in office.
Below are excerpts of Putin’s answers at the annual news conference:
Putin: 'We Have Put A Lot Of Effort Into Modernizing Russia's Nuclear Missile Potential, And Our Armed Forces'
Nathan Hodge: "Mr. President, my name is Nathan Hodge, Moscow Bureau chief of the Wall Street Journal. Is there a possibility of an early presidential election next year?"
Putin: "What country are you talking about?"
(Applauses. Laughter in the audience)
Nathan Hodge: "The Russian Federation."
Putin: "I can tell you right away. It is possible, but not advisable."
Nathan Hodge: "Thank you. You made a statement yesterday on strengthening the strategic nuclear capability. Could you elaborate on these plans in greater detail?"
Putin: "May I ask you to better articulate your question? What exactly in my statements at the Defense Ministry Board meeting caught your attention?"
Nathan Hodge: "On a personal level, what interests me is the production of new kinds of nuclear weapons. We know of course how hard it is, since nuclear tests are banned. Perhaps you simply could not help but respond to Mr. Trump’s statement yesterday on nuclear weapons?"
Putin: Regarding the U.S. President-elect, Mr. Trump, there is nothing new here. On the campaign trail he talked about the need to strengthen the U.S. nuclear capability and armed forces. So there is nothing unusual here.
"Honestly, I was quite surprised by statements coming from other official representatives of the current administration, who for some reason started to argue that the United States has the most powerful army in the world. But nobody suggested otherwise.
"If you listened carefully to what I said yesterday, I talked about strengthening the nuclear triad and in conclusion said that the Russian Federation was stronger than any potential – and this is key – aggressor. This is a very important point, and not an incidental one.
"What does it mean to be an aggressor? An aggressor is someone who can attack the Russian Federation. We are stronger than any potential aggressor. I have no problem repeating it.
"I also said why we are stronger. This has to do with the effort to modernize the Russian Armed Forces, as well as the history and geography of our country, and the current state of Russian society. There are a whole host of reasons, not least the effort to modernize the Armed Forces, including both conventional weapons and the nuclear triad.
"I must say, and this is no secret, we have nothing to hide, that indeed, we have put a lot of effort into modernizing Russia’s nuclear missile potential, and our Armed Forces. This also applies to our Strategic Missile Forces, which are deployed on land; this concerns our sea-based forces; this is all open information, we are not hiding anything. We are deploying new strategic nuclear submarines with new types of missiles on board. This also applies to our air forces. I am referring to both the carriers, i.e. the aircraft, and the strike systems they have under their wings. We operate in strict compliance — I would like to emphasize this — in strict compliance with all of our agreements, including START-3.
"Once again, allow me to repeat something I consider extremely important. In 2001, the United States unilaterally withdrew from the ABM Treaty. This agreement was certainly the cornerstone of the entire international security system. We were told then, ‘We are not doing this against you, while you...’ I said, ‘We will have to react somehow, we will need to improve our strike systems in order to defeat these missile defense systems.’ And they said, ‘Well, you can do whatever you want, we will proceed from the idea that you are not doing it against us.’ So that’s what we’re doing. Although many prefer to ignore this fact, but this is exactly what we have basically agreed to, tacitly, without signing any documents. So nothing new is happening here.
"So why are current US officials suddenly claiming that they are the strongest and the most powerful? Yes, indeed, they do have more missiles, submarines and aircraft carriers. We will not even argue with that. We are saying that we are simply stronger than any aggressor. And this is true."
Putin: 'Leaders Of The Democratic Party Are Trying To Blame All Their Failures On Outside Factors... I Think That This Is An Affront To Their Own Dignity. It Is Important To Know How To Lose Gracefully'
Yevgeny Primakov: "Yevgeny Primakov, Mezhdunarodnoye Obozrenie [Global Review], Rossiya 24, VGTRK. Mr. President, the world is going through a period of fundamental change. We saw the expression of popular will, when people vote against old political concepts and old elites. Britain voted to leave the European Union, although it remains to be seen how the Brexit issue will pan out. Many say that Trump won because people voted, among other things, against the old establishment, the people they have become sick and tired of.
"Have you discussed these changes with colleagues? What will a new global landscape look like? Do you remember what you said at the General Assembly when the UN celebrated its 70th anniversary? You said, ‘Do you understand what you have done?’ Where are things headed? We are still locked in a confrontation. You have mentioned the exchange about who has the strongest army. At his farewell news conference, Barack Obama, who is still your colleague, said that 37 percent of Republicans sympathize with you and hearing this Ronald Reagan would have rolled over in his grave."
Putin: "Hearing what?"
Yevgeny Primakov: "That 37 percent of Republican voters sympathize with you."
Yevgeny Primakov: "Yes. And if Ronald Reagan had heard it, he would have turned in his grave. By the way, we as voters very much appreciate your power and that you can reach as far as Ronald Reagan. Our western colleagues often tell us that you have the power to manipulate the world, designate presidents, and interfere in elections here and there. How does it feel to be the most powerful person on Earth?"
Putin: "I have commented on this issue on a number of occasions. If you want to hear it one more time, I can say it again. The current U.S .Administration and leaders of the Democratic Party are trying to blame all their failures on outside factors. I have questions and some thoughts in this regard.
"We know that not only did the Democratic Party lose the presidential election, but also the Senate, where the Republicans have the majority, and Congress, where the Republicans are also in control. Did we, or I also do that? We may have celebrated this on the ‘vestiges of a 17th century chapel,’ but were we the ones who destroyed the chapel, as the saying goes? This is not the way things really are. All this goes to show that the current administration faces system-wide issues, as I have said at a Valdai Club meeting.
"It seems to me there is a gap between the elite’s vision of what is good and bad and that of what in earlier times we would have called the broad popular masses. I do not take support for the Russian President among a large part of Republican voters as support for me personally, but rather see it in this case as an indication that a substantial part of the American people share similar views with us on the world’s organization, what we ought to be doing, and the common threats and challenges we are facing. It is good that there are people who sympathize with our views on traditional values because this forms a good foundation on which to build relations between two such powerful countries as Russia and the United States, build them on the basis of our peoples’ mutual sympathy.
"They would be better off not taking the names of their earlier statesmen in vain, of course. I’m not so sure who might be turning in their grave right now. It seems to me that Reagan would be happy to see his party’s people winning everywhere, and would welcome the victory of the newly elected President so adept at catching the public mood, and who took precisely this direction and pressed onwards to the very end, even when no one except us believed he could win. (Applause).
"The outstanding Democrats in American history would probably be turning in their graves though. Roosevelt certainly would be because he was an exceptional statesman in American and world history, who knew how to unite the nation even during the Great Depression’s bleakest years, in the late 1930s, and during World War II. Today’s administration, however, is very clearly dividing the nation. The call for the electors not to vote for either candidate, in this case, not to vote for the President-elect, was quite simply a step towards dividing the nation. Two electors did decide not to vote for Trump, and four for Clinton, and here too they lost. They are losing on all fronts and looking for scapegoats on whom to lay the blame. I think that this is an affront to their own dignity. It is important to know how to lose gracefully.
"But my real hope is for us to build business-like and constructive relations with the new President and with the future Democratic Party leaders as well, because this is in the interests of both countries and peoples..."
Putin: 'American Tactical Nuclear Weapons Are Being Replaced In Turkey, The UK And The Netherlands. So If Anyone Is Instigating This Arms Race, It Is Not Us'
Steven Rosenberg: "Steven Rosenberg, BBC News. Thank you. I’d like to ask a question in English. Is that okay? Mr. President, your country has been accused of state-sponsored hacking with the aim of influencing the results of the U.S. presidential election. And President Obama has hinted very strongly, he thinks that you are behind that. He said that not much happens in Russia without Vladimir Putin.
"And President Obama revealed that he told you personally to cut it out. So, what did you tell him in response? And can you confirm that you were warned by Washington not to tamper with America’s election, warned in a message via the so-called Red Phone, the crisis line between your two countries? And finally, just coming back to the point about Donald Trump’s tweet [on December 22, 2016, stating: ‘The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes’]. Are you not concerned there is a danger of a new arms race, if America is talking about boosting its nuclear arsenal?"
Putin: "The United States paved the way to a new arms race by withdrawing from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. This is obvious. When one party unilaterally withdrew from the treaty and announced that it would be building a nuclear umbrella for itself, the other party either has to build the same umbrella (which seems unnecessary to us considering the questionable effectiveness of this program), or develop efficient means of overcoming this missile defense system and improving its own missile strike system, which we are doing successfully. We did not concoct this. We have to respond to this challenge.
"Speaking about our progress (and we have advanced significantly), yes, we are progressing, but within the boundaries of our agreements. I would like to emphasize this. We are not breaching any terms, including START III. We abide by all the agreements regarding the number of nuclear delivery vehicles and warheads.
"Just recently, U.S. observers came to our nuclear plants and watched how we produce missiles and nuclear devices. Do you all remember that? Instead of maintaining our relations in a similar fashion, the United States withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. It was not we who did it.
"Yes, we have made progress in improving our nuclear triad systems, including the means to break through missile defense. This system is currently much more effective than missile defense, it is true. Perhaps this is what is prompting the United States to improve its own nuclear arsenal. Well, this is what they are doing.
"Take, for example, the replacement of tactical nuclear weapons based in other countries, including Europe, including your own country, Great Britain. This is happening. I hope that the audience of your programs and online readers are aware of this. American tactical nuclear weapons are being replaced in Turkey, the UK and the Netherlands. So if anyone is instigating this arms race, it is not us.
"But I would like to stress that this is also very important for our domestic consumption, for domestic policy. We will never be dragged into an arms race to spend more than we can afford. I already said in my answers to several questions in the beginning that defense spending amounted to 2.7 percent of the budget in 2011 and 4.7 percent this year but next year we plan 3.3 percent and, eventually, 2.8 percent by 2019. We will maintain this bar because we have already taken some necessary measures to move towards modernization that must bring us to the point where 70 percent of the armaments will be new and advanced by 2021. Now the advanced weapons amount to almost 50 percent, with around 60 in some segments and 90 percent in the nuclear segment. Therefore, we are satisfied with the current progress. Everything is going according to plan.
"As concerns interference and what we discussed with President Obama. You may have noticed that I never speak about the private conversations I have with my colleagues. First, about the interference. I already responded to one of your fellow journalists from the United States. The defeated party always tries to blame somebody on the outside. They should be looking for these problems closer to home.
"Everybody keeps forgetting the most important point. For example, some hackers breached email accounts of the U.S. Democratic Party leadership. Some hackers did that. But, as the President-elect rightly noted, does anyone know who those hackers were? Maybe they came from another country, not Russia. Maybe somebody just did it from their couch or bed. These days, it is very easy to designate a random country as the source of attack while being in a completely different location.
"But is this important? I think the most important thing is the information that the hackers revealed to the public. Did they compile or manipulate the data? No, they did not. What is the best proof that the hackers uncovered truthful information? The proof is that after the hackers demonstrated how public opinion had been manipulated within the Democratic Party, against one candidate rather than the other, against candidate Sanders, the Democratic National Committee Chairperson resigned. This means she admitted that the hackers revealed the truth. Instead of apologizing to the voters and saying, ‘Forgive us, our bad, we will never do this again,’ they started yelling about who was behind the attacks. Is that important? ..."
Putin: 'The Party Which Calls Itself Democratic And Will Remain In Power Until January 20... Has Forgotten The Original Meaning Of Its Name'
Dmitry Peskov: "Perhaps we could take a question from TV channel RT, which the West accuses of every mortal sin? Russia Today."
Ilya Petrenko: "Good afternoon, Mr. President. I would like to ask about democracy in the context of the recent election in the United States. American politicians, perhaps more than any others, love to talk about democracy. They say democracy is what makes the American people exceptional. Sometimes they say that some countries lack democracy, and they then have to share their democracy with these countries. But after this election, these same people who proudly bore the banner of ‘American democracy’, suddenly started saying that they have been betrayed after the result of a democratic election in their own country.
"What is happening? What has gone wrong with democracy? In general, is democracy a good thing?
"If you permit, I have one more brief question on an issue of concern to me personally on the human level. As you know, Oksana Sevastidi was recently sentenced to 7 years in prison for state treason. Don’t you think this too harsh a punishment for the SMS this woman wrote when she saw a train carrying military equipment heading for Abkhazia?"
Putin: "Regarding the court decision, it is hard for me to comment because the courts are an independent branch of power here in Russia, as in all other civilized countries. But I think this really is a rather harsh approach. To be honest, I do not know the details. If she wrote something in her SMS messages, if she just wrote what she saw and everyone else could see it too, then we are hardly talking of any real secret here.
"To be honest, I am not familiar with this whole case, but I will try to take a look at it and examine the claims the court ultimately supported against her.
"As for the subject of democracy, yes, there are problems. This is something we have long been saying, but our American partners always dismissed it. The problem lies above all in the United States’ archaic electoral system. The two-stage election (not through direct secret ballot) of first the electors and then the electors electing the president. And then it is organized in such a way that some of the states retain preferences. You would have to ask the American lawmakers why the system is as it is. Perhaps it was done deliberately so as to let people in particular states keep hold of their privileges. This is the American people’s own affair, however, and not our business.
"But it is very clear that the party which calls itself Democratic and will remain in power until January 20, I think, has forgotten the original meaning of its name. This is particularly so if you look at the absolutely shameless way they used administrative resources in their favor, and the calls to not accept the voters’ decision and appeals to the electors. As I already said, this is not a good thing. But I hope that once the electoral passions have died down, America, which is a great country, will draw the needed conclusions and keep them in mind for future elections."
Alexey Yeryomenko: "I will be brief, without any introductions. When do you expect to meet with Donald Trump? What strategic issues will be on the agenda at the first and the following meetings? What do you expect? Thank you."
Putin: "It is difficult to say now. First of all, the newly elected US President needs the opportunity to put his team together. Without this, I believe, unprepared meetings are quite meaningless.
"What issues will be on the agenda? Issues that concern putting our relations back on track. During his election campaign, Mr. Trump said that he considered it appropriate to normalize Russian-American relations. He also said that the situation would not be worse, as it cannot get any worse. I agree with him. So, together we will think about how to make things better."
Putin: 'If, In Dealing With Matters Related To Building Our Relations, The Relations Between Europe And Russia, We Have To Turn... To A Third Country, Then It Is Not Interesting For Us To Talk With Europe As Such'
Andrzej Zaucha: "TVN, Poland. Indeed, two years ago I asked you here in this hall about the plane wreckage. You said you would talk to the Investigative Committee. Here is what I would like to know: How did they respond? We know that they responded and that the investigation is continuing. However, unfortunately, seven years have already passed since the tragedy. Perhaps all studies and examinations have been completed and so only a political decision is needed to hand over the wreckage. Maybe that should be considered? Of course, this is entirely in your hands.
"And another point. Recently it has often been said that Poland is moving away from the European Union. There are similar trends in other European countries. From your perspective, is a weak Europe more convenient, more beneficial for Russia? Is Russia using all these disagreements, conflicts and problems within the European Union to its own advantage or is that not the case?"
Putin: "I will begin with the first question. Indeed, the Investigative Committee is conducting an investigation and until it is over they need the plane wreckage. This is the first point. Second, regarding the essence of the matter. Listen, all the speculation on this issue needs to stop. A terrible tragedy happened. I personally read [the transcript of] the conversation between the pilot and the man from the late president’s security who had entered the cockpit. I personally read that transcript. The man who entered the cockpit (I do not remember his name but his name is known) demands to land. The pilot says: ‘I can’t. It is impossible to land.’ To which the man from the presidential entourage who entered the cockpit says: ‘I can’t report this to the boss. Do all you can. Land.’
"Listen, everything is clear. What is there to speculate on? This is a terrible tragedy. We have done our best to investigate it. This should not be used to aggravate interstate relations – that is all. Everything is clear. If there is something that is not clear, let investigative agencies deal with that.
"Now regarding the weaknesses and strengths of Europe, what that means and what our position is. No doubt, we want to have a reliable, strong and – this is not unimportant – independent partner. If, in dealing with matters related to building our relations, the relations between Europe and Russia, we have to turn to third countries or to a third country, then it is not interesting for us to talk with Europe as such. A recent European politician said that all European countries are small states, but not everyone has realized it yet. By the way, I disagree with that, because there are great powers in Europe. I will not enumerate them now for fear of failing to mention any. We treat them accordingly. How Europe should build relations internally is none of our business.
"There are two positions, and you know this better than I do: a Europe of sovereignties, a Europe of independent states with a small common superstructure or quasi-federative state. Today, the number of binding decisions on EU member countries, decisions passed by the European Parliament, is more than the number of decisions passed by the USSR Supreme Soviet that were mandatory for the Soviet republics. This is a fairly high degree of centralization. Whether or not it benefits Europe, I do not know, it is for them to decide, not us.
"The fact that there are differences over migration or some other things, that too is up to the Europeans to tackle. Of course, those European countries that oppose the current migration policy are concerned over the degree of their participation in decision making. They do not like it when someone at the top imposes solutions they consider unacceptable for themselves. It is not with us that such countries as Poland or Hungary should discuss those issues, and they are not doing that of course, they are discussing them with Brussels, with European capitals.
"But no matter how relations inside Europe take shape, we are interested in developing relations with Europe and we will strive to do that. Naturally, we would like Europe to speak in one voice so that it could be a partner that one could talk to – that is what really matters to us. But if that is not the case, we will look for opportunities to talk at the national level of individual states, with each of our partners in Europe. Although that is what actually happens now: we solve some issues with the European Commission and others at the national level with individual European countries. On the whole, it suits us. The internal structure of Europe is not our problem."
The Normandy Format And The Anti-Russia Sanctions
Putin: 'The Normandy Format Has Indeed Not Proven Especially Effective... [However,] If We Abandon This Instrument, The Situation Would Worsen Quite Rapidly'
Veronika Romanenkova: "TASS News Agency, Veronika Romanenkova. I have a question on Ukraine. The Ukrainian crisis has evolved into a frozen conflict. There is a feeling that the two sides have stopped hearing each other. Where is the way out of this deadlock? There is the Normandy Format. How effective is it? Was there any desire to change anything? Do your meetings with the leaders of Germany, France and Ukraine help resolve anything? By the way, what do you think about the prospects for visa-free travel between Ukraine and the European Union?"
Putin: "Thank you. Another colleague has a poster with ‘Ukraine’ written on it. Please, ask your question too, and I will try and answer them all at once."
Dmitry Peskov: "By the way, this is a journalist from Ukraine who has been working in Moscow for a long time."
Remark: "Thank you."
Vladimir Putin: "You’re welcome."
Question: "I am not sure that you will be able to combine the two questions. Mr. Putin, in recent years your country under your leadership has caught so many Ukrainian citizens that even world-famous film directors are asking you to free a Ukrainian director. As a Ukrainian reporter, I would like to ask you to grant clemency and release Ukrinform reporter Roman Suschenko, since cases brought against Ukrainian nationals seem to have a political agenda. Under the torture that Crimean commandos Zakhtey and Panov had experienced anyone, including me and even you, would admit to being a Ukrainian spy.
"I would like to ask you a specific question. You have said on a number of occasions that you felt compelled to protect the Russian-speaking population in Crimea and Donbass. Last year you said that it was never a secret that you had sent people to Donbass to deal with military matters. Could you clarify where this is mentioned in the Minsk Agreements, and do you understand that if you retire someday, Ukrainians will still view Russians as occupiers."
Putin: "It would be good to begin by making sure that the Ukrainian army is not viewed as an occupying force in Donbass, which is Ukrainian territory. This is what matters. This is my first point.
"Secondly, as for freeing people. We are doing all we can to release people detained by both sides. The fuller this exchange will be, the better.
"There was a time when President Poroshenko proposed exchanging ‘everyone for everyone.’ I fully support this approach. It later turned out that there are some details in this ‘everyone for everyone’ formula that do not suit all of Donbass representatives. What are these details? In fact, Ukrainian authorities consider the detention of people in Donbass to be illegal. At the same time, there are many people imprisoned in Ukraine whom the Ukrainian authorities consider to be lawfully convicted, and refuse to put them on the exchange lists. This is the crux of the problem. If we are to have this exchange, there should be a decision to pardon these people and free them all. Otherwise, it would be very hard to agree on anything.
"On the subject of directors and journalists, the latter should do journalism and the former make shows and films. Regarding the detained Ukrainian military service personnel and military intelligence officers, no one tortured or beat them. It is easy enough to check the confessions they have made. It should be no difficulty for the media to check whether they are military intelligence officers or not. They have given full details, not just their names and registration information, but the names of their units, commanders, the units they served in, the missions given them, and their addresses and meeting places on Russian soil, including in Crimea. They have given all this information. This provides a whole range of information and the different elements confirm each other. This all has to stop. If the political will can be found to do this, it will be easier to resolve the other issues.
"Coming back to journalists and movie directors, of course no one wants to detain journalists if they are simply carrying out their professional duties. But what are we to do with a film director if he is preparing to commit terrorist attacks, and this was proven in court? Are we to let him go simply because he is a movie director? But how does he differ from a career military intelligence officer planning to do the same thing? If we let a film director go today, will we have to let go career intelligence officers preparing terrorist attacks tomorrow? What difference is there between them in this particular case? Do we let one go today and have others come tomorrow? We need to agree that all of this must stop, and only then can we start considering amnesties. I don’t have anything against this idea.
"I didn’t answer the question from TASS.
"You were certainly right. It is hard to combine questions. (Addressing Veronika Romanenkova) What was it there? The Minsk agreements, the Normandy format, and what else?"
Veronika Romanenkova: "Your opinion on the possibility of introducing visa-free travel between Ukraine and the European Union."
Putin: "The Normandy format has indeed not proven especially effective. It remains only to regret this lack of real effect. But this is the only mechanism we have at present and I personally think that work in this format should continue. If we abandon this instrument, the situation would worsen quite rapidly, and we would not want this to happen.
"As for visa-free travel to Europe for Ukrainian citizens, I fully support it. Moreover, I think visas in Europe are a Cold War anachronism, and need to be abolished as quickly as possible. So if Ukraine, Ukrainian citizens are allowed to travel to Europe visa-free, I think it would be a step in the right direction. But as far as I know, we are only talking visas that do not give the right to work. So the question is, will the inflow of Ukrainian workers increase anyway? It certainly will. In Russia, according to preliminary data alone, there are 3 million Ukrainians. If they can go to Europe without a visa and earn a little more, people will certainly try to move there, even from Russia, let alone from Ukraine. This will put a serious burden on the labor market in Europe.
"On the other hand, there might be negative implications for Ukraine as well. Without the right to work, Ukrainians coming to work in Europe will find themselves in a very humiliating position. This means that they will have to work illegally, that is, they will arrive, say, for three months under the visa-free agreement, then go back to Ukraine, check in and go back immediately. This means that they will work illegally. This means that they will not enjoy social protection or any protection, for that matter. They will be subjected to serious exploitation. And that is bad. Therefore, if they allow visa-free entry, they need to give work permits as well."
Sebastian Rauball (retranslated): "I will ask my question in German. Thank you very much for the chance to put a question. How do you see 2017 in terms of relations with the West, looking at the possibility of a new start in Russia’s relations with the USA? Now, following the terrorist attack in Berlin, do you think it is perhaps worth looking at improving relations?
"I have a second question. Yevgeny Dzhugashvili, Stalin’s grandson, who was fighting for Stalin’s rehabilitation, died yesterday. In an interview, film director Kirill Serebrennikov said that he fears Stalin’s rehabilitation. What is your view on this issue? Is it possible for Josef Stalin’s descendants to somehow get him rehabilitated?"
Putin: "Regarding developing relations between Russia and Europe, I already answered your Polish colleague on this subject. It was not we who initiated the worsening in relations with Europe, including with Germany. We did not impose any sanctions on European countries, including Germany, none at all. All we did was to take measures in response to the restrictions imposed on our economy. We would be happy to lift these measures if our partners, including in Europe, lift the anti-Russian sanctions, even though our farmers are asking us not to do this.
"What happened after all? Let’s take an objective look at the events that brought us to such a situation. Our American and European friends initially acted as guarantors for the agreement reached between President Yanukovych and the opposition, but the next day, the agreements were broken and power was seized. Instead of condemning an anti-constitutional coup and calling for execution of the agreement to which the foreign ministers of three European countries – France, Germany and Poland – had put their signatures, they supported this anti-constitutional coup.
"This resulted in the people living in Crimea wanting to reunite with Russia, Ukraine losing Crimea, and the sad, tragic and bloody events in Donbass. But what was at the start of all of these developments? It’s amazing to think, but at the start of this whole tragedy was the failure to reach agreements on Ukraine’s accession to, of all things, an association agreement with the European Union. How could issues of a purely economic nature end up taking on such a new dimension and lead to such tragedies?
"Were we the ones who initiated this chain of events? No, of course not. We spent years asking to have this agreement’s main parameters settled with us. Mr. Yanukovych said too in the end that, ‘I want to join this agreement, but I need to reflect on the accession terms and settle them within our own government and consult with Russia, because we have very close economic ties with Russia and we need the Russian market. We have a high level of cooperation.’ But our European partners said no. How can one act that way? We therefore do not consider ourselves to blame for what happened. We did not start this chain of events.
"By the way, what happened then and what is happening now? After the coup was staged under the guise of joining the Association Agreement, the association was postponed. Immediately. So, they did exactly what Yanukovych proposed to do. They dragged it out for a year or even more, then wrote that they made a decision on ratification and postponed the association once again. And what is going on now? A referendum was held in the Netherlands, and Europe does not want to implement it any more. I really don’t even know what to make of this.
"Now we are talking about visa-free travel for Ukrainian citizens. But it is on hold, and if it proceeds, it will be implemented in the truncated form and, obviously, will put labor migrants coming from Ukraine to Europe in a completely embarrassing position. Wouldn't it be better if they could work together, calmly and without any fuss, and reach an agreement on how to collaborate?
"What kind of relations do we seek to build with Europe? We aim to resolve common problems, one of which is certainly the fight against terrorism. We express our condolences to the families of those killed in Berlin and wish a speedy recovery to all those injured. But I have repeatedly said, including in my speech at the UN 70th anniversary session, that this problem can be settled effectively only though joint efforts. But how can we join our efforts with anti-Russian sanctions and reciprocal measures imposed and all forms of cooperation scaled down? What can be done if, for instance, our British colleagues have completely curtailed relations with Russia’s Federal Security Service? So, can we talk about efficient work on the anti-terrorist track? Absolutely not. So, as a result, we take hits, heavy and painful. I really hope that our cooperation will be restored."
Maxim Nikolayenko: "I am Maxim Nikolayenko, Kryminform [Crimea Inform]. Our news agency was established barely a week before Crimea reunified with Russia. So three years is a long time for us. People in Crimea and Sevastopol differ on the losses and achievements of that period. I think that our opinions are subjective because we lack complete information. This is not the case with you. You certainly have complete information not only from reports but also from other sources.
"How would you assess Crimea’s development and the rate of its integration in the Russian economy? It is not an idle question. You may have had to answer it often, but the implementation of the federal targeted development program to 2020 in Crimea and Sevastopol is not very successful, though it has not gone off the rails either. The implementation rate is less than 5 percent in Sevastopol, and the figure for Crimea is not available yet. In this situation, it is very difficult to see which industries are worth developing in Crimea. Another objective reason for this delayed development is the lack of power. Thank you for launching a power bridge to Crimea. We had enough gas of our own for consumption, but we face a severe shortage of additional electricity resources for development. We need more gas and new power stations.
"Excuse me, but I must ask one more question, about the project of the century, the Crimean Bridge. The project is absolutely transparent, and we know almost everything about it, except for one detail – the name. We call it the Crimean Bridge, but Muscovites have different associations. The name ‘Kerch Bridge’ has not taken hold, and no other ideas are being discussed. What would you name this bridge?"
Putin: "You just said it, Kerch Bridge. I did not suggest the name. I suggested that the bridge be built, and you suggested the name. (Applause)
"By the way, projects to build a bridge [to Crimea] were proposed in tsarist Russia and also in the Soviet era. The [German] occupiers almost built a bridge, but they miscalculated and it was destroyed by the spring ice breakup. There is a demand for this bridge. I hope, no, I am sure that we will eventually normalize relations with Ukraine, and this bridge will be very important for the development of Russian-Ukrainian trade and cultural ties. The bridge is an important element of infrastructure, which will have an impact on the economy as a whole, not just the tourism industry.
"Now to the beginning of your question, that is, the progress of integration. You know that the program for the development of Crimea stipulates very favorable conditions in terms of Russian law, that is, free economic zones. However, it turned out that rapid integration comes with legal and economic complications. And you cannot blame it all on the federal authorities. They have provided the funds, but you must dispose of them competently, promptly, effectively, sparingly and rationally. But this is also a problem for local officials, who cannot understand how to adapt their work to Russian law and administrative procedures. Adjustment takes time. I can tell you that this process is ongoing, and at a fast rate.
"I mentioned an increase in industrial output in Russia. In some manufacturing industries, we see major growth of up to 20 percent. In general, growth will be low, under one percent, around 0.7, 0.8, 0.9 percent of industrial output; while in Crimea it is six percent, and 25 in Sevastopol due to federal orders placed by our Russian companies.
"The unemployment rate is below the Russian average. It is at a good level in general. If we go back to the first question, it is one of the indicators (it was not you who asked this question, I believe). We had 5.6−5.7. This year, it will be 5.5, and even lower in Crimea, which is very good.
"Which industries could hold promise for Crimea? Of course, ship repair, shipbuilding, and certain branches of the chemical industry. They are already there and, overall, they work well. All they need is support. Of course, agriculture, as well. By the way, 3 billion rubles were allocated to support agriculture this year, I believe. That is five times more than last year, and 10 times more than in 2014. It is important to make good use of that money and to achieve the best value for the money spent.
"Tourism, of course. I have no doubt that with the opening of the Kerch Bridge tourism will increase dramatically. I would like the high-tech industry to develop in Crimea without harming the environment and to create high-tech and well-paid jobs. There is an issue here. Salaries and incomes in Crimea are below the national average. In Russia, the figure is about 35,000 rubles on average, whereas in Crimea it is 24,000, perhaps 24,500, and a little more in Sevastopol – slightly above 25,000. But I am sure these numbers will level out. We need to take the necessary steps to ensure that at least in the federal government bodies at the regional level salaries are equal to the national average. I have no doubt whatsoever that in a while it will level out.
"By the way, there are Russian regions where income levels are lower than in Crimea. But, in view of Crimea’s potential, I am certain there will be growth in this important social area. We need to resolve issues that have remained open for decades. I am referring, primarily, to healthcare. It is necessary to build a good hospital, a clinic in Simferopol. An advanced clinic will soon be built on the southern coast of Crimea outside Yalta. There is a problem with personnel training, because people have never used such equipment. However, this issue is being addressed. Let us combine our efforts and work on it together."
Russia In Syria
Putin: 'We Understand The Importance And Role Of Russian-Turkish Relations And Will Do Everything To Develop Them'
Fuad Safarov: "Fuad Safarov, Sputnik news agency, Turkish office. Mr. Putin, for the first time, Russia and Turkey have succeeded in resolving a major important issue with Syria without involving the West. I am referring to Aleppo. So, Russia and Turkey have such potential. But will Ankara and Moscow be able use this potential in the future? Will Iran, Russia and Turkey withstand the insidious games in the Middle East? This new triangle, this alliance – will it be able to play a key role in settling the Syrian conflict?
"Allow me to ask a second question. You and Mr. Erdogan reached an agreement on Syria in October 2015, but it was an informal agreement. Then a Russian plane was shot down. In June, relations began to normalize. That was followed by a coup attempt. Today, Russia and Turkey have begun to collaborate on a settlement in Aleppo, but the Russian Ambassador was murdered in Ankara. Do not you think this is a coincidence?"
Putin: "Let us start with the final part of your question, with the tragedy that happened recently, I mean the murder of our ambassador. I think primarily, that was certainly an attempt to compromise Russia, to compromise Russian-Turkish relations. No doubt about that.
"You know, I will be straight with you. I was skeptical about the idea that our aircraft was downed without the order of the Turkey’s top leadership but by people who wanted to harm Russian-Turkish relations. But now after the gun attack on the ambassador, which was committed by a riot police officer, I am beginning to change my mind. Now it seems to me that anything is possible. And the infiltration of Turkey’s government agencies, including law-enforcement and the army, by destructive elements is certainly deep. Right now I am not at liberty to point fingers elsewhere and accuse someone of something, but we see that this is a fact, this is taking place.
"Will it obstruct the development of Russian-Turkish relations? No, it will not, because we understand the importance and role of Russian-Turkish relations and will do everything to develop them with due account of Turkish interests and, no less important, Russian interests. During the past year, or to be more precise, after the normalization, we managed to find compromise. I hope we will be equally successful at finding compromise in the future, too.
"Now a few words about Aleppo. Indeed, the President of Turkey and the President and all leaders of Iran in general played a very large role in resolving the situation around Aleppo. This involved exchanges and unblocking several areas with a Shiite majority. Perhaps this will sound immodest but this would have been simply impossible without our participation, without Russia’s participation.
"So, all this cooperation in the trilateral format definitely played a very important role in resolving problems around Aleppo. Indicatively, and this is extremely important, especially at the last stage, this was achieved without military action, as the Defense Minister just reported to me about this work at the final stage. We simply organized and carried out the evacuation of tens of thousands of people, and not only radical armed groups and their representatives but also women and children. I am referring to the over 100,000 people who were evacuated from Aleppo. Thousands were moved out of other residential areas in exchange for this withdrawal from Aleppo.
"This is the biggest – and I want to emphasize this for all to hear – the biggest international humanitarian action in the modern world. It could not have been carried out without the active efforts of the Turkish leadership, the Turkish President, the President of Iran and all other Iranian leaders, and without our active participation. Needless to say, this would not have been achieved without the goodwill and efforts of Mr. Assad, the President of the Syrian Arab Republic, and his staff. So, experience shows that there is a need for this format and we will, of course, develop it.
"I would not disregard the interests and the involvement of other countries in the region, such as Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and, of course, Egypt. Undoubtedly, it would also be wrong to approach issues of this kind without a global player such as the United States, so we are willing to work with everyone.
"The next step, while we are at it, should be an agreement on a ceasefire throughout Syria, immediately followed by practical talks on political reconciliation. We suggested Astana, Kazakhstan, as a neutral territory, and the President of Turkey agreed. The President of Iran also agreed as did President Assad. President Nazarbayev has kindly agreed to provide this venue. I very much hope that we will manage to put it on a practical footing."
Putin: 'The Kurdish People Will See Their Rights Guaranteed, But The Form This Takes And How It Will Be Done Will Depend On Iraq And On The Kurdish People Itself'
Question: "Good afternoon, esteemed Mr President. I am Khashavi Mukhammad from TV channel Kurdistan 24. I have the following question. As you know, the Kurds have played a big part in fighting international terrorism, and Russia today plays a major and important role in the world, particularly in the Middle East. What is Russia’s position regarding the fact that the Kurds of Iraqi Kurdistan have already set out on the road to independence?"
Putin: "Russia has always had good special relations with the Kurdish people. The Kurdish people have their very own complicated history. We see what is happening now in the Middle East. I can note and confirm that Kurdish combat units are fighting very courageously and effectively against international terrorism.
"As for the question of sovereignty and independence of part of whichever country, our position is that we will act within the framework of international law and, ultimately, the Kurdish people will see their rights guaranteed, but the form this takes and how it will be done will depend on Iraq and on the Kurdish people itself. We have been and remain in contact with both Baghdad and Erbil, but we have no intention of intervening in internal Iraqi affairs."
Putin: 'Although I Think The Words ‘Islam’ And ‘Terror’ Really Should Not Be Used Together Unreasonably'
Armine Ayrapetyan: "Good afternoon, Mr. President. Armine Ayrapetyan from Caucasus Today, Pyatigorsk, North-Caucasus Federal District.
"Today, the global community is fighting terrorism, and particularly the international terrorist organization whose members call themselves the ‘Islamic State.’ Sadly, many in Russia use this name, primarily in mass media; but we all are aware that terrorism has nothing to do with Islam or with statehood. Do you think it would be right and logical to prohibit using the name ‘Islamic State,’ at least in the mass media?"
Putin: "What media outlet do you represent, again?"
Armine Ayrapetyan: "Caucasus Today."
Putin: "Caucasus Today. Can you be prohibited from doing anything? I think this is a blind alley. Although I think the words ‘Islam’ and ‘terror’ really should not be used together unreasonably. You’re right about this."
Armine Ayrapetyan: "Thank you."
Putin: 'The Ties That Russia And China Have Developed Over Recent Years Are More Than A Simple Strategic Partnership'
Question [CCTV]: "... The global situation is becoming more complicated. There are refugees and terrorist attacks in Europe, the Middle East remains unstable, and now the U.S. has a new president. In this situation, what new approaches should major powers such as Russia and China find to resolve global and regional problems, and how will this influence our relations?"
Putin: "It is common knowledge that Russia and China have very close relations. We are all familiar with the term ‘strategic partnership’, but the ties that Russia and China have developed over recent years are more than a simple strategic partnership. China is our biggest trade and economic partner as far as individual countries go. Yes, our trade turnover has fallen a little due to objective circumstances (above all, the drop in energy prices), but we are diversifying our relations and I am especially pleased to see that our trade in the high-tech sectors and in industrial production has grown significantly of late.
"We have big projects in aircraft manufacturing, and good prospects in the space sector, and in energy, including nuclear energy. We have some good undertakings in infrastructural projects, and I hope they will all go ahead. We are developing [cooperation] and will continue to do so, despite the difficulties that exist – I will not go into the details now – in the transition to settling our trade and economic accounts in our national currencies, all the more so now that the yuan has become one of the International Monetary Fund’s reserve currencies, an event on which I congratulate our Chinese colleagues. We have common views on many issues on the international agenda, and I am certain that this will be a major stabilizing factor in international affairs. We value our ties with China and hope to continue developing them."
Yelena Glushakova: "Yelena Glushakova, RIA Novosti. I have a question about oil. What will happen with it? What do you think will happen to oil prices? The current price is $40–$50 per barrel. Is that enough for the Russian economy? Will the Russian budget cope with reduced oil production, which we agreed to as part of our agreement with OPEC? What price of oil, do you think, is the best for the Russian economy?"
Putin: "Today, as far as I know, Brent is selling not at $45, but $55, I checked this morning. I have already mentioned that we are drafting a budget based on conservative estimates of $40 per barrel. If you go back to the first questions of today’s agenda, as the bureaucrats say, then I can tell you that we got the results that we did due to the fact that the real situation was worse than our forecasts, because we drafted the 2016 budget based on oil prices of $50 per barrel, but it ended up being $40. Despite that, both the GDP trends and inflation have changed, and we have kept our reserves. So, this is a significant factor in the overall analysis of developments in our economy. The global economy is worse off, but our performance is better. This means that the economy has adapted and will continue to grow.
"Now, about the prices and their impact on us. No one can say for sure, this is a complex issue which depends on many variables, and predicting them is almost impossible. Our Ministry of Energy has already provided its forecasts. We believe that the excess oil will leave the market in the second half of 2017, and oil prices will stabilize. We hope they will stabilize at their current levels.
"Now, with regard to how our economy will respond to a decline in oil production, I can say that we took this step deliberately. We have a relatively high ‘production shelf’ as of the end of this year. The decline in production, which we have committed to, stands at 300,000 barrels per day for the period from January to June. This will be a smooth reduction, which will have almost no effect on the overall production volumes, which is absolutely acceptable for us. However, we expect that this will lead to an increase in oil prices, which has already happened.
"If this state of affairs remains unchanged, how will it affect the budget and our companies? The $10 difference in oil prices would mean additional budget revenue of 1.75 trillion rubles. For oil companies, despite declining production, the difference of $10 in oil prices will provide an additional income of 750 billion rubles. That is, everyone will win in the end. This is the first such OPEC decision over the past eight years, I believe.
"Of course, this result would not have been possible without our good will to work in conjunction with OPEC. We will continue to cooperate with OPEC, meaning we will meet our obligations. However, we are not OPEC members, and while we maintain contacts with them, we, as we meet our obligations, are free from any other commitments until we achieve common results. So far the results are evident, we are striving to achieve them. We believe that such cooperation is beneficial both for the countries that are not members of the cartel, and for OPEC itself."
Russia's Doping Scandal
Nikolai Yaryomenko: "I am Nikolai Yaryomenko from Sovetsky Sport. We are the oldest sport newspaper in the country, 92 years. We have seen a great deal. But we write about more than just scores, medals and seconds. We are concerned about the country’s future in sport, and it appears, unfortunately, that we care more than some of our officials do. We have seen that some officials were fired or moved to other posts after the publication of Mr. McLaren’s two reports, even if not immediately. Can we say that the doping situation in the country is improving thanks to these personnel reshuffles? Will it improve, or are the actions taken towards this end not enough yet?
"My second sub-question is: Can the mega-monster, WADA, be reformed or should it be replaced with some other organization? It is not a strictly sports question, as many people see a political component. Is there a political component?"
Putin: "Let me begin with doping as such and the problem of doping. First, Russia has never created – this is absolutely impossible – a state-run doping system and has never supported doping, and we will do our best to prevent this in the future. I wanted to repeat this as my first point.
"Secondly, like any other country, we have a doping problem. We must admit this and by doing so, we must do everything in our power to prevent any doping. As such, we need to closely cooperate with the International Olympic Committee, WADA and other international organizations. We will do this. I hope that the ongoing changes, which are not only about personnel but are systemic and structural changes, will help us achieve these goals. In addition, the Investigative Committee and the Prosecutor’s Office are investigating all cases of alleged doping, and they will bring these cases to their logical conclusion.
"As for the so-called whistle-blowers who ran away from the country, grass up everyone or make up things, I would like to say a few words. I do not remember exactly the name of the person who fled Russia. He headed the Russian Anti-Doping Agency. But where did he work before that? In Canada. And what did he do after that? He came to Russia and brought all kinds of nasty stuff with him, while serving as a high-ranking official. It is hard to imagine that he managed to cross the Canadian or U.S. border carrying banned substances without being detected. You know what it means. Many of you have crossed the U.S. and Canadian borders, there are very strict controls there. He travelled back and forth many times to bring this nasty stuff here. It was his personal undertaking, he forced people to take these substances, and even came up with some sort of sanctions against those who refused to do so, for example, the swimmers. When he was exposed, he escaped law enforcement, fled, and started slurring everyone in order to protect himself and secure a place in the sun in hope of a better life. At a certain point he will get what he wants. But after that, just as it happens to any rascal, they will drop him. Nobody needs people like this. Why did he not fight here? This makes me think that somebody was behind him. They waited for a certain moment and started spreading these false stories. But this does not mean that Russia does not have a problem with doping. We do have this problem, and we must fight it. We must acknowledge this, and in doing so we must focus on athletes’ health.
"As for WADA, I am not entitled to assess its performance. It is up to the International Olympic Committee to do it. However, as I have already said, operations of any anti-doping agency, including WADA, should be completely transparent, clear and verifiable, and we must be informed about the results of their work. What does this mean? This means that the international sports community should know who is to be tested, when and by what means, what the results are and what measures are being taken to punish those responsible, what is being done to prevent such incidents in the future. What’s going on? Are we talking about the defense industry? No. But in this case it is unclear why everything is so secretive? This should be an open process. They always ask us to be transparent. Transparency is very important in this area.
"I cannot fail to agree with what a number of legendary athletes said about the recent decisions to cancel major competitions in Russia. They said that nobody knew anything. But if it was known before, why was it made public right now? You know, politics are always involved in cases like this. Just as culture, sport should be free from politics, because sport and culture should both help bring people together instead of driving them apart."
Russia's Domestic Policy
Putin On The 2018 Presidential Elections
Andrei Kolesnikov: "Andrei Kolesnikov, Kommersant. Mr. President, how would you respond to this question: why should you necessarily become the President of Russia again in 2018? And what would be your response to this question: why should you not, under any circumstances, become the President of Russia?"
Putin: "He is some kind of provocateur."
Andrei Kolesnikov: "As usual."
Putin: "He does this all the time. This is an exercise in futility. My response will be standard. When the time comes I will see what is going on in Russia and in the world. Based on what we have done, what we can do and how we can do it, a decision will be made regarding my participation or nonparticipation in the presidential election in the Russian Federation."
Marat Sagadatov: "Marat Sagadatov, editor-in-chief of newspaper Za Suverenitet Rossii [For Russia’s Sovereignty], Ufa.
"Let me start by thanking you on behalf of our readers for all you are doing to strengthen our defense capability and for the fight you are leading to restore and bolster our country’s sovereignty. We hear you very clearly, and when you say that some might wish to live in a state of semi-occupation, we certainly do not, and we do not want a weak government controlled from abroad, – we agree with you completely.
"As we see it, our country has internal issues that we could describe as follows. Of late, the media have started making frequent use of the word ‘war’ in combination with various qualifiers – cold war, hybrid war, information war. But the word ‘war’ remains the main word here. In a war situation, our people, who have a good genetic memory, always recall our history and the past wars we fought and always won, even if we encountered losses and setbacks on the way. Our memories return us to more recent history – to the Great Patriotic War.
"Comparing that time with today’s situation, the following question arises. Our economy, industry, ministries and agencies often follow the rules laid down by international organizations and are managed by consulting companies. Even our defense enterprises have foreign consulting firms auditing them. You raised the issue of NPOs (non-profit organizations) at one point, and we went on to learn of foreign influence and foreign agents. But the consulting issue has not been addressed.
"Our readers ask if it is not time to do some import replacement in this area too, and is it not up to us to decide what development course to take and what we need to do? These issues concern not just the economy but, regrettably, spill over into the ideological sphere, too. There are a great many issues in this area. In other words, the stream of imports that came flooding into our country brought with it numerous problems, which have already been mentioned today, and we saw our traditional values getting trampled underfoot. We think there is a need for some ‘import replacement’ in this area, too. Given that this issue has become ever more urgent of late, I would like to know if any measures are planned in this area?"
Putin: "You are talking now about economic sovereignty – an extremely important issue. As for patriotic sentiments – you are from Ufa, aren’t you? – we know well the sentiments in Bashkiria. It has always been this way by tradition in Bashkortostan, even in olden times. Let me recall that during the 1812 Patriotic War, Bashkiria armed, mounted on horses and sent to the front its entire male population starting from age 16. It did the same in the Great Patriotic War of 1941–1945. We should certainly be proud of this and support this.
"As for economic self-sufficiency, as I have already said, this concerns not only import substitution but also the independence of our financial system, bank cards, interbank settlements, and so on. There were many elements that we considered immutable and immune to potential political differences.
"However, it turned out that this was not the case and that we were simply cheated: when it was necessary to exert political pressure, they instantly started using economic levers. Therefore, we should bear this in mind, especially when it comes to our defenses.
"As for consulting and various rating agencies, which is no less important, we should, of course, think it over. This is a complicated issue. It is abundantly clear that we should establish our national rating agency and develop our own consulting service. We are doing this and the only problem is that these structures must be absolutely transparent and absolutely accepted by the business community. Otherwise their activities would be pointless.
"If we remove all our partners from the market without creating similar structures that enjoy the respect and recognition of our businesses and international business, our entrepreneurs will sustain certain losses. This is the case, because everything that will be brought to grass, as miners put it, all information released by our domestic companies will not be considered by potential investors, if these companies are not recognized worldwide. This is a bad story, as this may lead to a cut-down on investment, and not only foreign investment but our own investment as well. However, we do need to move forward and enhance our sovereignty in this area, and we will certainly work on this..."
Alexei Solomin: "My question is connected, in part, to your Address [to the Federal Assembly]. You said that the fight against corruption is not a show. There are too many shows like this around. Take the story of [Federal Customs Service Director] Andrei Belyaninov. He has been nearly ruined, his name dragged through the mud, but later it turned out he was framed. Or take [Economic Development Minister Alexei] Ulyukayev, a close and confidential associate, whom you dismissed overnight, citing the loss of trust. Did you talk with him? Did you ask him for an explanation? Do you have it? Is it possible that these headline-grabbing cases are not about fighting corruption and that they are an imitation created for public attention, or your attention, in order to get a seat closer to you?
"If I may, I asked a question at last year’s news conference, and I would like to ask the same question again. It concerns the murder of Boris Nemtsov. Are you monitoring the investigation? Do you, as a lawyer, consider the related developments convincing? Do you, as the Supreme Commander-in-Chief, believe that Russian officer Ruslan Geremeyev, who has not appeared in court for testimony, must appear in court?"
Putin: "I will begin with the last part of your question. Of course, I closely monitor the so-called high-profile cases, especially when they concern murder, in particular, the murder of Boris Nemtsov. Of course, I support everything the investigative authorities have done to establish the circumstances of this case and to identify the persons involved and the culprits.
"It is not surprising that officials, people who held official positions, including in law enforcement agencies, sometimes commit crimes, even very serious crimes. This has happened in Russia and other countries before. Take the horrific, tragic murder of our ambassador in Turkey. Do you know who killed him?
"So there is nothing new in this, and we will continue working consistently to establish the circumstances and to identify the criminals. The investigative authorities usually achieve this goal in the majority, if not all high-profile cases, although this can take years, as in the case of [Soviet dissident and Russian politician] Galina Starovoitova and several other cases. Unfortunately, we have not yet established all the circumstances surrounding the murder of [Russian economist and official of the Saint Petersburg City Administration] Mikhail Manevich, with whom I had a close personal relationship. His murder has not been solved yet... "Regarding Mr. Ulyukayev: I did not talk with Alexei Ulyukayev. I believe that the information provided by the related agencies was sufficient reason to remove him from his position due to loss of trust. We will know what this leads to after the trial. Making any conclusions before this is improper and harmful."
Ekaterina Vinokurova: "Mr. Putin, I realize that I looked a little ridiculous, but in addition to a question, I have a request that is a matter of life and death for some people. I hope this will excuse me. My name is Ekaterina Vinokurova, Znak.com.
"I will begin with a question. Mr. Putin, I always watch your speeches, and I listened carefully to the Address as well. You say good things that are impossible to disagree with. However, the next day everything starts going in exactly the opposite direction."
Putin: "Everything? That's impossible. To say that everything goes either right or wrong is a very radical approach."
Ekaterina Vinokurova: "I will provide examples."
Putin: "Do please."
Ekaterina Vinokurova: "For example, our good comrades nodded their heads when you said in your Address that responding aggressively is inadmissible and the wrongdoers must be punished. Here in St Petersburg, a colleague of mine, a photographer from Kommersant, David Frenkel, was beaten up by someone from NOD."
Putin: "From where?"
Ekaterina Vinokurova: "NOD: the National Liberation Movement led by Evgeny Fyodorov, which acts under openly aggressive slogans calling for cleansing the government, and so on.
"Or, for example, the Sorok Sorokov movement, who claim to be Orthodox Christians, but, in fact, preach views that make other people turn away from the Orthodox Church. They were very aggressive in defending the construction of a church that was opposed by the locals, also believers, by the way. They insulted the people to the point where the locals began to respond, and then they wrote a complaint about offence of the feelings of believers. All of that despite your repeated statements about the consolidation of our society and that the ties that bind our society have to do with reconciliation rather than aggression.
"Or, for example, you mentioned in the Address that we are sensitive to injustice, lies and self-serving interests. For instance, we see that the great [Rosneft corporation chair] Igor Sechin ... Vedomosti found out that he is about to build a house in Barvikha, and Igor Sechin, instead of building a more modest house, because he is an employee of a state-owned corporation in a poor country, sues Vedomosti and demands that the entire circulation be destroyed.
"Another example (I am nearly finished). During a news conference several years ago, you said that you were in favor of electing mayors. Mr. Putin, are you aware that mayoral elections in major cities were canceled 18 months later? The question is simple: Mr. Putin, your elite is openly challenging you. They nod approvingly to everything you say, tell you how great and wonderful you are – and everyone ..."
Putin: "Stop, stop right there." (Laughter)
Ekaterina Vinokurova: "This is a simple and straightforward question, Mr. Putin. Why is it that you say one thing, but in practice we see, too often, something different? Is this some kind of creeping coup?"
"Secondly, my request. Mr. Putin, RBC reporter Alexander Sokolov has been kept in a pre-trial detention center for more than 18 months now. The charge that we hear in court is delusional and makes no sense whatsoever. We do not see any fairness on behalf of the security officers, judges, nor do we have any hopes for justice.
"There’s another case of a woman named Evgeniya Chudnovets, who posted on VKontakte [social network] a video showing a boy being bullied and asked the police to do something about it. She was put behind bars for that and was sentenced to real time in prison. Mr. Putin, please, we have to do something about the sadistic skew of our justice. Please, we must save these people. Thank you very much."
Putin: "About the prosecution bias in justice in Russia. You know, we have recently taken a lot of decisions aimed at humanizing our legislation. This applies to criminal law, to administrative offenses, and additional measures are being taken now. These are fundamental things that we are doing consciously, and we will continue this work.
"As for someone expressing extreme views or acting radically – Russia is a large and complicated country, you know. Some would radically defend liberal values and organize provocative exhibitions, and they say they are doing it deliberately to draw attention to their actions, to their art. Here, too, there must be moderation, right? There must be moderation in all things. The same can be said about the so-called patriots. I said we would support patriotic movements, assuming there is no distortion. The balance of things should be determined within society.
"As for the specific persons you mentioned, I have to be honest, I have never even heard of them. I will look it up, I promise, I have no idea if their verdicts were fair or not.
"About the construction projects implemented by business representatives, including those from state-owned companies, the extravagant-looking real estate – I agree with you, they need to be more modest, you are right. I told them so many times and I hope they will hear me. This also concerns their bonuses, their incomes. Even if the law allows it, they need to understand the country we live in, and try not to annoy people.
"As for the various claims you mentioned, after all, it is up to the court to decide if it is a fair claim or not. If an individual goes to court seeking protection of their business reputation, honor and dignity, the court shall determine the degree of guilt or lack thereof. As far as I know about the case, Sechin claimed several billion or something like that from RBC. The court agreed that he was right, but the amount was 360,000, truly insignificant. Nothing terrible actually happened. But I must say that people often come to me, I mean, prominent figures in culture and the arts, people with very different views, by the way, and complain about journalistic terror against them – yes, of persecution, seizure, of their children being terrorized.
"I would like to ask you and your colleagues, please, please be more discreet, do not interfere in the personal, private lives of public figures, artists, athletes and other such people. We all need certain rules developed, and we need to adhere to these rules on the basis of a sufficiently high cultural level in our country."
Natalia Galimova: "Mr President, I am Natalia Galimova, RBK... You have just spoken of the responsibility of the media in the context of lawsuits. On the one hand, yes, but there is another side to the matter. Igor Sechin is actively suing the media: Novaya Gazeta, Vedomosti, RBC, Forbes magazine. The outcome of the court cases has always been the same. Igor Sechin wins lawsuits, while courts, with very rare exceptions, order that the articles that are the objects of his discontent be removed from websites or, with regard to Vedomosti, for example, that its entire circulation be destroyed. Do you believe that such rulings set a dangerous precedent, legitimizing the suppression of information that may not be to someone’s liking?"
Putin: "Do you have a problem with Sechin, the courts or the unreliability of your own information? You know, all of this requires careful consideration. Sechin, as well as other people who go to court – what are they supposed to do to defend their honor, dignity and business reputation? Are they supposed to come and fight you with a stick or what? They go to court, just as in any civilized society. How objective these rulings are, frankly, I do not know. He sued RBC for 3 billion, but the court ordered RBC to pay him 300,000. This 300,000 is a paltry amount for RBC. I do not think that it will seriously affect the holding’s financial and economic operation. However, to look at this from a somewhat unexpected angle, generally it is good that the press keeps bureaucrats and representatives of big business, including companies with state participation, on their toes. However, this should be done only within the bounds of the law."
Natalya Galimova: "But what about the decision to destroy publications?"
Putin: "Frankly, I cannot pass judgment. If this decision is based on law, is within the bounds of law, well, then it should be carried out..."
 Kremlin.ru, December 23, 2016.
 See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 6658, Putin At The Valdai Club: 'Does Anyone Seriously Imagine That Russia Can Somehow Influence The American People's Choice? America Is Not Some Kind Of 'Banana Republic'... Do Correct Me If I Am Wrong', October 31, 2016.
 Twitter.com/realDonaldTrump, December 22, 2016.