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Promises Made, Promises Kept? Putin's Pledges From Last Year's 'Direct Line'

Russian President Vladimir Putin answering questions on TV during the annual Direct Line session on Russian TV channels and radio stations last year.

Following Russian President Vladimir Putin's marathon Direct Line question-and-answer session last year, the news reader on Rossia TV proclaimed it "the most important event of the year."

For Russia's governors and other regional leaders, it is surely the most nerve-wracking event of the year. The annual show always features angry or distraught Russians from the far corners of the vast country complaining to Putin about their lack of housing, their inability to purchase medicines, the impassability of their roads, and the like. Putin invariably responds with the words governors most dread: "I'll look into it."

The Rossia report on last year's Direct Line, broadcast within hours of Putin's appearance, already contained footage of road crews in the southern city of Krasnodar repairing a major street after a local resident drew the president's attention to its gaping potholes.

It might seem that having citizens complain about kindergartens and traffic jams to the head of state of a major power is a bug in Russia's political system.

But it is more like a design feature with a long pedigree in Russian history that enables Putin to shift blame for miseries big and small down to local officials. Refocusing discontent in this way is arguably one key to Putin's political longevity.

This year, as Putin prepares to hold his 16th Direct Line show, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov hinted there could be a new twist of the knife for regional leaders who, like the officials in Krasnodar, try to cover over problems before Putin has a chance to call them.

Peskov told journalists on June 1 that it was "possible" that Putin might call regional leaders live during the Direct Line broadcast to get their reaction to criticism from people in their bailiwicks.

The independent RBC news agency cited unidentified "sources close to leadership of several subjects" of the Russian Federation as confirming that governors have been "advised" to watch Direct Line.

"They were asked not to leave on vacation and to be in their offices," one source was quoted as saying.

Putin made dozens of promises to look into all manner of problems during last year's four-hour show. The then-recently-fired FBI Director James Comey did not take Putin up on his pledge of political asylum, but other promises were not forgotten. RFE/RL looks at how a few of them played out.

Andrei Bol

One of the more touching moments of the 2017 Direct Line came at about the half-way mark when 11-year-old Andrei Bol from the Far Eastern port city of Nakhodka complained about coal dust from unloading ships that was making the air in his town impossible to breathe.

"How are we to live now?" Bol asked. Putin promised to find out "who owns the port" and to ensure that "harm to people and the environment is minimized." He pledged to get back in touch with Bolya and report on his progress.

According to the Far Eastern edition of the tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda, the day after Putin's Direct Line, the then-governor of Primorsky Krai ordered an air-quality monitor to be installed at the port. He also ordered port stevedores to participate in a program to develop green spaces in Nakhodka and invited Bol to participate in the city's Public Expertise project.

Although Komsomolskaya Pravda was unable to speak to Bol personally, several of his relatives told the paper that he and the family had come under attack by local journalists who speculated that he had been given the question by some interested party.

Other locals told the paper that the problem has not been solved and that it is likely that people from Nakhodka will try to raise the question with Putin again this year. sent a correspondent to Nakhodka in April to check on the situation and quoted one local resident as saying: "Only one thing has changed: the time when coal is unloaded. Now they do it in the evening and at night, when the clouds of coal dust are not noticeable and gradually people have stopped paying attention to Nakhodka's problems."

Valentina Sakovskaya

A resident of the village of Krasnokumskoye in southern Stavropol Krai, Valentina Sakovskaya, called Putin last year to complain that she had not been given any financial assistance following flood damage to her home and that local officials were charging her various fees for inspections and other procedures before any compensation would be forthcoming.

"We have to pay 1,800 rubles ($29) each for confirmation...that our home was destroyed," she said. Putin responded that he couldn't "get his mind around the situation."

The RBC news agency contacted Sakovskaya and she told them that immediately after her conversation with Putin, she and her family of five were given 120,000 rubles (20,000 rubles [$324] per person) in "administrative flood assistance." Shortly thereafter, they got 100,000 rubles ($1,621) per person for loss of housing and, later, 220,000 ($3,500) per person in federal assistance.

"We bought ourselves a house," she told RBC. She said that local children and elderly people affected by the flooding were given the opportunity to spend time in a sanatorium. added that prosecutors investigated Sakovskaya's allegations and found 150 legal violations in the actions of local officials. Partially on the basis of those findings, local residents have filed 43 civil actions in regional courts.

Larisa Yakupova

Larisa Yakupova's situation is slightly different. She sent Putin a question last year complaining to him that officials in local schools were forcing parents to pay for classroom desks for their children.

Yakupova's question did not appear during the broadcast of Putin's Direct Line. But about one month after the show, Putin met with Kalmykia head Aleksei Orlov and ordered him to look into the complaint. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov explained to journalists on July 10 that it was a new practice by the president to prepare for meetings with local leaders by reviewing questions submitted to Direct Line.

"Personally, my appeal to Putin helped me a lot," Yakupova told RBC. "And the fact that a criminal case was opened against [her school's director] is a lesson to all managers that they have to understand what their responsibilities are."

She conceded, however, that the parents of other children in the school support the embattled director and "consider [her] a victim of the system."

Anastasia Votintseva

During the 2017 Direct Line show, Anastasia Votintseva of Izhevsk, Udmurtia, showed Putin the decrepit and condemned wooden building -- built in 1958 -- that she was living in with her sister and her sister's three children. She informed the president that local officials had declared its residents would only be resettled into new apartments in 2029.

To everyone's surprise, Putin not only promised to look into the matter but actually promised personally to come and visit Votintseva. According to, almost as soon as the broadcast was over, local officials began repairing Votintseva's street; and two weeks later, Putin himself showed up to speak with her and other residents of her building.

The president came bearing a birthday gift for Votintseva in the form of an all-expenses paid vacation for her and her family to the Black Sea resort city of Sochi that was valued at 1.3 million rubles ($21,000).

Putin ordered local officials to resettle the building by the end of the year, and, indeed, in December Votintseva was given a studio apartment and her sister's family a separate apartment of their own.

"Earlier all five of us lived in 22 square meters, and now we both have spacious, comfortable apartments," she told RIA Novosti.

But it was the vacation in Sochi that seems to have impressed Votintseva the most.

"It was the best vacation of our lives," she was quoted as saying. "We relaxed on the beach in August, me, my sister, and the children. We accumulated enough good impressions to last a whole year. The children were thrilled, and it was the first time I had seen the sea. The vacation was the highest quality. We got various spa treatments. The food was great, and they gave us some excellent excursions."

Votintseva's new apartment is generously decorated with photographs from the Sochi trip.

"Now it is vacation season again," she told RIA Novosti. "The children are asking to go back to the sea, but we can't afford that. We are living on our excellent memories of the sea."

Alyona Ostaltsova

Alyona Ostaltsova, from Irkutsk in Russia's Far East, complained to Putin during the 2017 Direct Line about her low pay as a teacher. She told the president she received only 16,500 rubles ($266) a month.

According to the local-news website Sibirskiye Novosti on June 1, Irkutsk Oblast Governor Sergei Levchenko personally looked into her case. He determined that Ostaltsova's salary was paid in strict accordance with the law and that it was low because of her lack of experience and the fact that she purportedly requested reduced teaching hours.

"Now Alyona Ostaltsova's salary has been increased," the website reported without giving specific figures or confirming with Ostaltsova. "For the new academic year, her status was raised and she also got incentive bonuses for outside activity and extra duties."

RBC, on the other hand, spoke with Ostaltsova, who provided more detail.

"My pay was increased, but not significantly," she said. "They began giving me incentive bonuses and I became more active this year. I started participating in everything -- the children take part in concerts, do plays, participate in competitions. Apparently the pay for merely being a teacher will never be enough. We don't become teachers for the money, even teachers want to live like normal people."