Putin shows contempt for protests in marathon TV question time

Russian PM offers no concessions and slams foreign influence during four-hour broadcast

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The Independent Online

There were two lessons to take away from Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's marathon question-and-answer session with his people yesterday.

First, Mr Putin, who plans to come back to the Kremlin next year and rule as President, is not going to soften his tone and make concessions in light of recent protests that have swept Russia. If anything, he's going to get tougher, as a bravura 276-minute performance of sharp rhetoric, flippant dismissal of criticism and trademark smirking goes to show.

Second, if you are going to address a strident tweet to the Russian leader, you better be prepared for an angry response. "Dear Vlad, the Arab Spring is coming to a neighbourhood near you," US Senator John McCain wrote on Twitter last week. Mr Putin put on his most severe face when asked about the message and snapped that what Mr McCain really wanted was for Russia to be weak and not hinder US global dominance.

"Mr McCain, as is well known, fought in Vietnam. I think he has a lot of civilian blood on his hands," Mr Putin said. "He really likes it, maybe, and can't live any more without these awful scenes." He added that Mr McCain had been captured in Vietnam and was held "not just in a prison, but in a pit for several years", which would be enough "to send any person nuts".

Things were perhaps even worse for poor old Dmitry Medvedev, who as President is supposed to be the most important man in the country. But he was mentioned just once during the session. Mr Putin also undermined his stopgap presidential replacement by saying that Alexei Kudrin, a minister who was sacked by Mr Medvedev for insubordination in September, had "never really gone anywhere" and was "still part of the team".

Most of all, we were watching to see what tone Mr Putin would take towards the 50,000 Muscovites who had come into the streets to protest contentious parliamentary election results last week. He had nothing but contempt for the protests, quashing the idea that the Russian leadership has decided to take a conciliatory tone. Mr Putin joked that the white ribbons the protesters wore looked like condoms and accused the opposition leaders of working on orders from abroad.

As usual, the questions touched on topics far and wide, dealing with all manner of domestic and foreign policy announcements with Mr Putin showing no signs of fatigue during the carefully choreographed session. He managed to quote Vladimir Mayakovsky, Vladimir Lenin and Rudyard Kipling in his answers and compared himself to the composer Sergei Prokofiev. At the end, Mr Putin selected a few questions from the thousands that had been sent in. What are the negative sides of his character? "I have plenty, like every person," he answered brusquely, drawing a round of applause from the audience for such admirable self-deprecation. What is happiness? "Happiness is love," he said. "If I feel that the Russian people no longer support me, I will not stay in office for one more day."

Given that he can dismiss anybody who criticises him as doing the bidding of nefarious foreign powers, that day is unlikely to come soon.

And another thing... long-winded politicians

Muammar Gaddafi

The late Libyan dictator addressed the UN General Assembly for 96 minutes in 2009. He mused on the death of JFK, swine flu ("perhaps tomorrow we will have fish flu?") and jet lag.

Fidel Castro

The former Cuban leader holds the record for the longest speech at the UN General Assembly – four hours and 29 minutes in 1960. It was three hours less than his longest-ever speech.

VK Krishna Menon

In 1957, India's UN ambassador defended the nation's stand on Kashmir to the Security Council for more than eight hours. People left for dinner, came back and he was still going at it.