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Live Blog: Putin's Annual Call-In Show


A bartender watches a live stream of Russian President Vladimir Putin's annual televised call-in show in a bar in Moscow on June 30.

Highlights

-- Russian President Vladimir Putin has hosted his nationally televised call-in show, an annual performance aimed at showcasing his willingness to respond to average Russian concerns. Read a summary of the most important moments here.

*NOTE: Times are stated according to local time in Moscow (GMT/UTC +3)

16:06 30.6.2021
16x9 Image Mike Eckel

For Russia's beleaguered political opposition, there wasn't much in Putin's comments to take heart from.

Over the past couple years, the Kremlin has orchestrated a widening crackdown on independent opposition groups, as well as civil society organizations, independent media, and other groups.

First and foremost among them is Aleksei Navalny, the anti-corruption crusader who has become the most potent political challenger to Putin. Last year, Navalny survived a poisoning attempt while in Siberia, a poisoning blamed on Russian intelligence.

When Navalny returned to Russia in January, after recuperating in Germany, he was promptly jailed, and then ordered to serve more than two years in prison in harsh conditions east of Moscow.

Putin did not even take a question about opposition politics in Russia. In past appearances, when asked about Navalny, Putin has even refused to utter his name -- a sign of his contempt for Navalny.

Meanwhile, a growing number of opposition activists have fled Russia, seeking haven in neighboring countries, including Leonid Volkov, who worked closely with Navalny.

In a tweet, Volkov notes that Putin was asked whether his greatest achievements were in the past or in the future.

"They are still to come," Putin said.

"Brace yourself," Volkov wrote.

16:00 30.6.2021
16x9 Image Matthew Luxmoore

As the show drew to a close after almost four hours, one Russian journalist juxtaposed Putin's refrain about Russia's resurgence under his rule with the recurring everyday problems Russians have come to him with over the years during the Direct Line show.

"The president to Russians: the Americans should know that the epoch of a unipolar world has ended, and China has already bypassed them. Russians to the president: There's no clean air to breathe, the road is flooded, only the mayor has access to gas, and the school has collapsed."

15:56 30.6.2021
16x9 Image Mike Eckel

For his final question, Putin was offered an expansive theme by the two co-hosts of the program:

The future of Russia.

In a nearly 10 minute answer, Putin offered a oft-repeated lament: the collapse of the Soviet Union, which resulted in the loss of substantial industrial base, he said, and the loss of the investment that he said Moscow had made in regions that were part of the Soviet Union but are now independent countries.

Still, he said, restoring the Soviet Union is pointless and impractical, he said-- a comment that will no doubt be most welcome in the capitals like Almaty, Tashkent, Tbilisi, and Kyiv.

And he offered another encomium to the nation, saying while Russia has some of the largest reserves in gold in the world, the true measure of Russia's wealth is its people.

Is he intending to stay in power after 2024?

We still don't know.

15:50 30.6.2021
16x9 Image Steve Gutterman

Putin's Direct Line program has ended after more than 3 1/2 hours.

15:49 30.6.2021
16x9 Image Ivan Gutterman

Answering the question -- "What time in the history of our country do you consider the very best?" -- Putin says there "were many glorious periods in Russia's history...the largest territorial gains were made under Catherine the Great's rule, while during Alexander I's reign Russia turned into what is today called a superpower." These are the periods Putin says Russia must remember and "be worthy of." Alexander I ruled Russia during the Napoleonic Wars, in which Russia repelled a French invasion and later fought as part of a coalition that captured Paris.

15:48 30.6.2021
16x9 Image Steve Gutterman

In responding to two short questions, Putin again leaves unclear when he may decide to end his time as president -- but suggests nobody should hold their breath.

Asked what he will do after he retires, he quips, Why work when you're retired? This could potentially be a hint that he does not plan to take some other influential post one he is no longer president -- and in any case, seems designed, as with such questions in the past, to keep people guessing about his plans.

Asked whether he believes his biggest achievements as president are in the past or yet to come, he chooses the latter. Like his comments earlier in the Direct Line, this suggests he is not planning on quitting the Kremlin anytime soon.

15:40 30.6.2021
16x9 Image Steve Gutterman

Perhaps the simplest example of the apparent purpose of the Direct Line: Presenter reads the question: "To whom does the president answer?"

Putin responds, "The Russian people" -- and adds that voters make their choice and the person who is elected must answer to them.

This glosses over deep-rooted concerns about alleged fraud in elections during his tenure, including presidential votes, and about the Kremlin's power over electoral processes nationwide.

It also glosses over the fact that Aleksei Navalny and other opponents have been barred from the elections on the grounds that they and their supporters say are fabricated for that purpose.

15:39 30.6.2021
16x9 Image Mike Eckel

One growing problem of Russia's fight against coronavirus:

The explosion in black market certificates and authorizations for people to show they've either been vaccinated or that they've tested negative for antibodies.

Putin professed to be well aware of the problem, calling it a "dangerous crime," and promised to have law enforcement look into it.

15:32 30.6.2021
16x9 Image Steve Gutterman

More about infrastructure: When will it -- and particularly transportation links -- be improved in the industrial Urals city of Chelyabinsk?

Putin is very much ready with an answer, saying it's a problem in many cities and giving details about plans for road and rail improvements in Chelyabinsk.

In part, this kind of question seems designed to allow Putin to display a detailed knowledge of the situation in specific cities and towns and is taking action to make improvements.

15:30 30.6.2021
16x9 Image Mike Eckel

For the past month, the world of professional soccer, Russia included, has been fixated on one of the most important events of the calendar: the Euro 2020 championships.

Russian soccer fans have been disappointed by a poor showing by the national team, which failed to make it out of the qualifying rounds -- and was promptly lambasted by all sorts of commentators.

The subject of sports has long been a priority for the Kremlin, where an older generation recalls the glory days of the Soviet Union, when the country's athletes routinely won championships and dominated the Olympic medal podiums.

(That push for a return to past sporting glory included the now-infamous campaign during the 2014 Sochi Olympics to secretly dope athletes -- a campaign that was exposed by a whistleblower and continues to plague the country's international competitions.)

Putin was asked not only about the soccer team's poor showing, but also that of the national hockey team, which recently lost in the quarterfinals of the world championships.

Russia has great potential, in both soccer and ice hockey, Putin said: the teams should push forward and keep looking for new successes.

"Sport is sport. In sports there are triumphs, defeats, failures," Putin said. "The fact that the hockey team did not distinguish itself, and the football team, is a fact that cannot go unnoticed."

"In such cases you need to think about what was done positively by those responsible for the work of the national teams, and with them to think about what needs to be changed, including the personnel component, and move on. We have good potential," he said.

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