Vladimir Putin played the role of the good tsar at his annual press conference, fielding questions, repeated declarations of grateful praise and requests to deal with unscrupulous businessmen and lazy bureaucrats. One excited journalist even credited him with an improvement in her love life, noting that she had “finally gotten married” shortly after meeting him in March.
Over 1,300 Russian and international journalists attended the four-hour session, jostling for Mr Putin’s attention with signs featuring their home country or region or the topic of their question.
A journalist from the Siberian mining region of Kuzbass managed to ask the President about coal transportation problems after catching his eye with an abominable snowman plush toy. Mr Putin promised to have the Transportation Ministry look into the situation.
Mr Putin deflected many of the more pointed questions, maintaining that Russia had signed a $15bn bailout deal with Ukraine out of a desire to help “a brother country and a brother people” and declining to name a successor or a “number two politician” when asked. He did, however, criticise the 30 Greenpeace activists and journalists on trial for hooliganism after a September protest against a Russian oil platform, even though the “Arctic 30” were given amnesty under legislation he proposed.
“It’s just personal PR, or, I repeat, an attempt at blackmail, or an action on someone’s orders to obstruct our work on the [Arctic] shelf,” Mr Putin said.
But Mr Putin spent most of the press conference taking questions from journalists representing small regional publications, many of whom seized the opportunity to ask the President for help with problems in their communities.
Shortly after Mr Putin promised to look into complaints by a journalist from a small village in the Far East about a territorial conflict between two law enforcement agencies, the head of Russia’s Interior Ministry announced an investigation in the settlement, the President himself said later in the press conference.
Mr Putin made fewer controversial statements and off-colour jokes than in the past, although he did manage to compare Oliver Cromwell to Joseph Stalin while answering a question about monuments to Soviet leaders.
“There is no difference. Cromwell is just as much of a bloody dictator as was Stalin,” Mr Putin declared.