I learned a lot more about the poor quality of Russian dairy products yesterday than I would care to know.
I also learned that wages aren't being paid, people can't afford to buy medicine or pay utilities bills, that schools, kindergartens, and hospitals are being closed, that small business owners are being unduly harassed by government inspectors, and that the roads are in horrible shape.
I learned all these things by listening carefully to the questions of the Russian people.
I also learned some surprising things by listening to Vladimir Putin.
Surprising, that is, because they turned out not to be true.
Like that the German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung that helped break the Panama Papers story is owned by the U.S. investment firm Goldman Sachs.
It isn't. It's owned by a Stuttgart-based media holding.
Or that Russia's currency reserves have returned to 2014 levels. They haven't. In 2014, they were more than $500 billion. Today, they are $388 billion.
Or that people are safer in Siberia than they are in Brussels or in Paris.
But the main thing I learned from Putin's annual call-in program yesterday is that even as the Russian people get increasingly nervous about the country's economic crisis, the Kremlin leader has absolutely no idea how to address it.
But what he does know how to do is how to distract and entertain his people.
But you have to wonder how much longer that is going to cut it.
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