Packed house for Vladimir Putin’s one-man show – and it runs and runs

A President in failing health? Not judging by this performance Shaun Walker saw in Moscow


It went on for as long as three football matches, or an uncut production of Hamlet. In a showpiece press conference that seemed designed to quash rumours about his failing health, Vladimir Putin answered questions for four-and-a-half hours on everything from Bashar al-Assad to Gérard Depardieu; from the coming apocalypse to rural Siberian transport links.

The recurring theme of the marathon session was the Russian President’s fury at the US, and Mr Putin said he supported a law that has almost finished its passage through Russia’s parliament which will ban adoptions of Russian children by American citizens.

The bill is a reply to the Magnitsky Act, signed into law by Barack Obama earlier this month, which bans dozens of Russian officials implicated in the death in prison of whistle-blowing lawyer Sergei Magnitsky from entering the US or holding American bank accounts.

Mr Putin faced a number of questions on the proposed adoption ban, which he described as an “emotional but correct response” to the US law, and railed repeatedly at American hypocrisy. 

“Not only are prisoners [at Guantanamo] detained without charge, they walk around shackled, like in the Middle Ages. They legalised torture in their own country. Can you imagine if we had anything like this here? They would have eaten us alive a long time ago.” Mr Putin said it was unacceptable for a country with a human rights record like that of the US to lecture Russia.

“They still point out our problems. Well, thank you, we are aware of them. But it is outrageous to use this as a pretext to adopt anti-Russian laws, when our side has done nothing to warrant such a response.”

Mr Putin said he had not yet carefully read the proposed anti-adoption law so could not back it definitively, but said he approved of the idea in principle.

On a later question about activists who have spent months in jail for causing public disturbances during a street protest the day before his inauguration as President in May, he again drew a comparison with US policy on public demonstrations. “Try to put your hand in your pocket there and pull something out, and you’ll have a bullet in the head with no questions asked,” he said. “And then they’ll support the police.”

Amid the serious issues there was also plenty of light relief. A Vladimir Putin press conference is no normal briefing. Assembled were more than 1,200 journalists; everyone from international television networks to Siberian village weeklies.

Many Russian journalists brought banners emblazoned with the name of their city. There was the reporter from faraway Magadan who used her one opportunity to pose a question to her country’s leader to inform him that he is an “energetic, beautiful man”.

Another journalist asked for an autographed birthday message for  his daughter, while a reporter from the Russian Far East suggested that  the best way to end the territorial dispute with Japan over the Kuril Islands would be to rename one of them Putin Island. (Mr Putin modestly stated that naming it Pushkin Island or Tolstoy Island would be “more productive”.) 

“Two more questions and that’s it,” implored Dmitry Peskov, Mr Putin’s press secretary, as the three-hour mark was breached, but Mr Putin had other ideas and carried on for another 90 minutes.

Seen limping in recent months,  and apparently suffering from back pain, Mr Putin has been subject to a number of rumours to do with his health, but by the end of the marathon, he looked like the least tired person  in the hall.

When asked about his supposed failing health, he gave a trademark wry grin: “I’ll give you my traditional answer: don’t hold your breath.”

Vladimir Putin: Words of wisdom

On the end of the world:  “I know when the end of the world will come. In roughly 4.5 billion years… And what is there to be scared of, if it’s inevitable?”

On Gérard Depardieu: “I have very good personal relations with him... If Gérard wants a residency permit for Russia, or a Russian passport, consider it done.”

On democracy:  “Democracy is about respecting laws. For some reason, people here think that democracy means Trotskyism or anarchy. It doesn’t.”

On the future of Russia:  “If you compare it to other periods of Russian history, the recent one has been far from the worst... maybe one of the best. But I hope future leaders will be even more successful.”

Netherlands' goalkeeper Tim Krul fails to make a save from Costa Rica's midfielder Celso Borges during a penalty shoot-out in the quarter-final between Netherlands and Costa Rica during the 2014 FIFA World Cup
newsGoalkeepers suffer from 'gambler’s fallacy' during shoot-outs
Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
artCultural relations between Sydney and Melbourne soured by row over milk crate art instillation
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux play teeneage lovers in the French erotic drama 'Blue Is The Warmest Colour' - The survey found four times as many women admitting to same-sex experiences than 20 years ago
arts + entsBlue Is The Warmest Colour, Bojack Horseman and Hobbit on the way
Two giraffes pictured on Garsfontein Road, Centurion, South Africa.
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleBenidorm, actor was just 68
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Morrissey pictured in 2013
A scene from the video shows students mock rioting
newsEnd-of-year leaver's YouTube film features playground gun massacre
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Financial Control Manager - Regulatory Reporting

£400 - £550 per day: Orgtel: Financial Control Manager - Regulatory Reporting ...

Lead Application Developer

£80000 - £90000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: I am current...

Senior Networks Architect

£65000 per annum + 15% Pension, Health, Travel & Bonus: Progressive Recruitmen...

SAP BW/BO Consultant

£55000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: SAP BW/BO CONSU...

Day In a Page

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices