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Putin's Press Conference Through The Eyes Of 'Navalny Live'

Vladimir Milov, a former Russian deputy energy minister and now a prominent member of opposition leader Aleksei Navalny's team, was on hand to dissect Vladimir Putin's press conference as it happened.

As Russian state media outlets began their live coverage of President Vladimir Putin's annual press conference, the YouTube channel of opposition leader and anticorruption activist Aleksei Navalny offered its own take on the event with a live stream featuring running, and often caustic, commentary.

"He sits for hours and just lies. And no one stands up and says to him, 'Why are you lying?'" Vladimir Milov, a former deputy energy minister and now a prominent member of Navalny's team, said as he opened the show on Navalny Live. "We've decided to change that and expose all the lies."

When Putin opened the lengthy question-and-answer session with journalists with a statement listing statistics suggesting slow but steady economic growth, and suggesting that citizens' quality of life was gradually improving, Milov presented things in a very different light.

"Putin lives in a different country," he said. "He's just been telling you about some nonexistent Russia. I'll now tell you about the real one."

Incomes are falling, Milov countered, saying that Russia was in a demographic crisis marked by a steady population decline no longer offset by immigration from the former Soviet Union. The situation, he added, is grave, and stands in stark contrast to the picture painted by Putin on air.

As the press conference continued with discussion of foreign policy, the prospect of nuclear war, and the rift in the Orthodox Church, among other topics, additional opposition voices weighed in.

The dire state of Russia's roads was mentioned, as was growing anti-Americanism accompanied by militarized rhetoric coming from the Russian state. The continuing persecution of certain NGOs and religious groups was another theme.

Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny (left) and his adviser Leonid Volkov. (file photo)
Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny (left) and his adviser Leonid Volkov. (file photo)

Navalny adviser Leonid Volkov mocked Putin's suggestion that Maria Butina, who pleaded guilty this month to U.S. charges that she conspired to act as a foreign agent, was not a Russian government agent, but a citizen acting independently.

"The more Putin says that Maria Butina was not on a government assignment and isn't a Russian spy, the fewer doubts I have that that's indeed the case," he said.

When Putin embarked on a cautious defense of Russian rappers who have been detained or banned from performing in Russia in recent weeks, opposition activist Lyubov Sobol listed a long series of criminal cases and arrests against members of Russian civil society.

"I personally have no questions for Putin," Sobol said. "I am nauseous from these press conferences where he talks and talks and does nothing. I don't want any lovely answers from him. I just want him to leave."

The Navalny Live channel and the Navalny Anticorruption Foundation, which has regularly accused Russian officials and elite of graft, have long been on the Kremlin's radar.

Ahead of local elections in September, Russian officials said they had warned the U.S. Internet giant Google against "meddling" by allowing Navalny to post videos calling for protests on YouTube

In May, police detained an anchor of the channel after it broadcast live coverage of antigovernment protests taking place across Russia just ahead of Putin's inauguration to a fourth presidential term.

The Navalny Live stream, in addition to offering its own indictment of the Putin era in general, provided an avenue for users to chime in as well.

"Vladimir Vladimirovich, why are all your friends millionaires and none of mine are?" read one memorable question which flashed up on-screen.

Ordinary Russians were also given a chance to contribute on camera.

In the build-up to the event, a dozen or so were stopped on the snowy streets of Russia's capital by Navalny Live and asked what questions they'd ask the president, given the chance. Among those that made the cut were questions about when inflation would stop, when pensions would improve, and when Russia's allies would return to the fold.

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    Matthew Luxmoore

    Matthew Luxmoore is a Moscow-based journalist covering Russia and the former Soviet Union. He has reported for The New York Times in Moscow and has written for The Guardian, Politico, The New Republic, and Foreign Policy. He’s a graduate of Harvard’s Davis Center and a recipient of New York University's Reporting Award and the Fulbright Alistair Cooke Journalism Award.