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Live Blog: Putin's Annual Press Conference

Vladimir Putin held his annual news conference, which lasted three hours and 44 minutes. Here's the play-by-play of everything he said -- and the many reactions -- at the yearly spectacle.

Key Highlights

-- The Russian president cast Russia’s sluggish economy in a positive light, while calling for improvements.

-- Putin criticized the United States for abandoning Cold War-era nuclear arms treaties, saying that the risk of a devastating war should not be underestimated.

-- Putin repeated his claim that Kyiv was to blame for an incident in which Russian forces fired on Ukrainian naval vessels off Russian-held Crimea on November 25.

-- Putin reiterated Russian denials of a series of accusations of what Western officials have called "malign activities" around the globe.

-- The president lashed out over the creation of an independent Orthodox Church of Ukraine, where a church linked with Russia has long dominated.

-- Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny is holding his own live-stream of the Putin press conference.

-- Putin’s year-end question-and-answer event is closely managed. Only specially selected publications are given the chance to ask a question, which usually range from a bit of geopolitical issues to a lot of local concerns.

Putin wishes everyone a happy new year and says good bye. The event is over.

Journalist from Chechnya asks Putin if anything can be done to return Russian citizens who "for one reason or another" ended up in Syria. Asks Putin to come and visit Chechnya, saying the president has great support there. Putin thanks him.

Russian journalist from Euronews asks about the militarization of Crimea and does Russia plan to claim the entire Sea of Azov. Putin begins with the referendum in Crimea and how Crimea "became part of Russia." Says when that happened, Crimea became a part of Russia's overall national-security policy. As for the Sea of Azov and Kerch Strait, Putin discusses the Kerch Bridge and other projects to connect Crimea to Russia. Putin says Russia is developing the entire area, not just in a military sense. Says Russia has spent 300 billion rubles developing the region. Discusses the geopolitical problems of the narrow Kerch Strait. Says passage through the strait is proceeding normally. Says that before the recent incident, Ukrainian military ships when through the strait with Russian pilots without any problems. Then there was a "provocation" connected with Ukraine's presidential election. Putin says the Ukrainian-Russia agreement on the use of the Sea of Azov is still in effect and Russia does not intend to make any "unilateral steps." Moscow wants to "normalize" the situation.

Russian Service of RFE/RL notes that Putin has picked the soccer World Cup hosted by Russia and Russia's presidential elections as the two biggest events of the year.

Although Peskov tried to end the event, Putin has called for more questions from regional journalists.

Next journalist says although Putin's rosy figures on the economy are accurate, people don't believe them because they are experiencing difficult times. Journalist blames mid-level officials and says "some sort of reform" is needed. Quotes a reader as asking him to ask Putin about the "huge difference" between earnings of top managers and average workers. Putin says the theme of the good tsar and the bad nobles is an ancient one in Russia. Putin agrees that there are some officials that aren't good at their jobs or aren't able to communicate with people properly. Putin says the government is working on this, attracting new people, improving state administration academies. Situation slowly getting better. As far as gap in incomes, Putin says unfortunately it is a problem everywhere, including in the United States. Says that gap was understood and used by Trump in his successful campaign.

Next journalist asks about the quality of Russian pharmaceuticals and the development of that industry. Putin says Russian products are as good as foreign ones. As for quantity, he says Russia is now even exporting medicines. Putin says Russia is now producing 80 percent of essential medicines.

Next journalist asks about athletic sanctions against Russia for doping. Putin says this is Russia's fault because there was, in fact, doping. But he denies any state involvement, saying the government has to worry about the health of its athletes. But he says Russia has not organized its international sports properly. Then says there is doping everywhere. Says there is a WADA delegation in Russia now and he hopes the problems will be resolved.

From our Moscow correspondent:

Next journalist asks about Putin's health. "How are you and do you need any help?" she asks. Putin flirts with her a bit. Journalist then proposes creating a Ministry of Ideas in the Russian government and Putin says it is a good idea. Says Economic Development Ministry should already be carrying out this function. Says he'd like to hear the journalist's ideas on what such a ministry should be. Putin says his health is good and he exercises.

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