But this year's event also had something unusual: a crop of journalists who were not in awe of the president and who were unafraid to challenge him with tough questions.
From the lively sparring over Kremlin policy to the unexpected snappy comebacks to Putin's trademark putdowns, it was political theater that reflects how much Russia has changed in the past year.
In the latest edition of "The Power Vertical Podcast," I discuss these issues with co-hosts Kirill Kobrin of RFE/RL's Russian Service and NYU professor Mark Galeotti, author of the blog "In Moscow's Shadows."
NOTE TO READERS AND LISTENERS: "The Power Vertical" will break for two weeks as I take a breather for the holidays. The blog will be back in action on January 7 and the podcast will return on January 11.