The Power Vertical's Brian Whitmore observes:
We're more than 3 1/2 hours in and, in many ways, Putin's press conference has been notable for what has been absent. There haven't been the colorful language and trademark locker-room references to private body parts we've come to expect. There hasn't been a "surprise" tough and provocative question from an "unexpected" opposition journalist. There hasn't been a question (yet) about Aleksei Navalny's presidential bid, which is surprising given State Duma speaker Vyacheslav Volodin's comments this week that the opposition leader was ineligible to run.
Putin punted on the 2018 question (essentially "I'll look at the situation and make a decision"). He stuck to his standard (and largely false) talking points on the conflict with the West ("They started it") and on Ukraine and the Euromaidan ("It was a Western-backed coup"). In a somewhat surprising comment, he said he favored Ukrainians being able to travel visa-free. He gave his obligatory diatribe against U.S. plans for missile defense, but said that Donald Trump's plans for a military build-up don't bother him. If Putin's criticism of the United States was mostly muted as he waits in hopes of a friendlier Trump administration, he missed no opportunity to criticize, poke, and troll the U.S. Democratic Party.
So far, a pretty pro forma and uneventful performance.
Someone is holding a sign with Putin’s image and words “Ask me about dictatorship.”
Next question is about the alcohol poisoning deaths in Irkutsk. Reporter says his region is at the forefront of the fight against illegal alcohol. Notes that it is a serious problem across Siberia and the Far East. Asks whether the government should do more to restrict industrial spirits and to prevent "the alcoholization of the population."
“Putin called on officials to be more modest.”
Next question is about tax policy and whether business taxes will be increased. Putin repeats that the government has decided not to increase business taxes and that a "whole selection" of new tax incentives are being introduced for business, especially small businesses. Mentions tax breaks for the agricultural sector, for high tech. Says these policies will continue for at least four years.
Next question is about Rosneft head Igor Sechin and his frequent lawsuits against the media. Reporter asks whether Putin thinks it is good that Sechin always wins and insists on having the stories destroyed. Putin says that Sechin has a right to protect his business reputation. Says he won't interfere with court decisions.
The press conference is going on for three and a half hours.
Next question is about the international situation -- terrorism, migrant crisis, new president in the U.S. -- and how will this affect relations between Russia and China. Putin says the two countries have "more than a strategic partnership." China is Russia's largest trading partner. Lauds cooperation in aviation, energy, space. Putin notes the two countries have common views on many international questions. Says Moscow is counting on continued good relations.