President Vladimir Putin took to Russia’s television sets today to perform what is now a long-held tradition – his ‘highly stage-managed’ question-and-answer session, in which he answers questions from members of the public. Topics discussed during the four-hour grilling included Alexei Navalny, the Boston bombing, and Stalinism, and as usual, failed to offer any big surprises, concessions to opponents, or changes in message. The Q&A coincided with a rough day of anti-Kremlin propaganda in the Western news, and closely followed Alexei Navalny’s address to the judge at his fraud trial, at which he claimed that the case against him is ‘political revenge’ aimed at scuppering his plans to run for public office. Indirectly responding to this accusation, Putin said that Russia does not have any political trials, (although that is really in the eye of the beholder) and insisted that the case against Navalny would be fair. ‘No one puts anyone in prison for political reasons, for their political views. They get punished for violating the law.’
Putin referred to the Boston bombing, and terrorism more broadly, as a ‘common threat’ shared with America, saying that he hoped it would bring Russia and the United States closer together – although separately, he criticised the U.S. for the implementation of its Magnitsky List, suggesting that it was simply a game of trying to display power.
Other highlights include his comments on former Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin: ‘He’s a slacker and doesn’t want to work,’ and an accusation that Anatoly Chubais’ entourage in the 1990s was populated by ‘CIA officers’. He denied that present-day Russia contained any elements of Stalinism, saying that ‘Stalinism is connected with a personality cult, with mass violations of the law, with repressions and prison camps. There is nothing of such kind in Russia and I hope there will never be.’ (One in four Russians in 2011 believed that Russia was mired in a Putin cult of personality, according to a Levada Center Poll.)
The Huffington Post collected a list of questions that it anticipated would not be answered during the session, including, ‘Do you see anything abnormal about a court in Russia putting a dead man on trial?’