Top 10 memorable moments from Putin's marathon LIVE Q&As
Vladimir Putin is holding his 13th question-and-answer marathon. Similar televised sessions, which are roughly a Russian equivalent of a state of the union address in the US in terms of purpose, but with a degree of interaction, have been held since 2001 almost annually.
The shows understandably focus on domestic affairs, with Putin reporting on government successes and acknowledging problems. But occasionally his comments touch upon Russia’s international stance, Putin’s personal life or even philosophical issues.
With the longest program so far lasting an exhausting 4 hours 47 minutes, they also give plenty of room for Putin’s famous humor - sometimes crude, but involving lots of memorable wordplay.
RT recalls 10 remarkable moments the previous sessions have given us.
Putin playing Fairy Godfather
The issues that Russians bring to Putin’s attention are purely local or even personal, and cutting through such problems has always been part of the show. At times he even gets to play a fairy tale character granting wishes to children calling him.
The first such episode happened in 2002, when a girl from the Far-Eastern city of Birobidzhan asked the president why the city authorities erected an artificial Christmas tree in the main square instead of bringing in a real one.
“Frankly speaking, I don’t know why this happened. It’s strange especially in your region…” Putin said adding that the region’s governor, who happened to celebrate his birthday on that day, would present a live Christmas tree both to himself and the entire city.
Wife’s keys to internet
The same Q&A session was remarkable for Putin going into details of his personal life, a topic he usually avoids and goes to a lot of trouble to hide from public scrutiny. The question was whether his daughters browsed online often. He said they did and that he believes they should not do so too much.
“My spouse organizes it all in an optimal way quite effectively. She makes a password and unless she types it in, nobody can go online at home,” Putin explained. He added that his now ex-wife Lyudmila didn’t reveal the password even to him.
An experienced speaker that he is, Putin sometimes makes spectacular gaffes. In 2010, he spoke against confrontational platforms during an election campaign in Ukraine, saying some politicians may use “anti-Russian and Zionist slogans.” The Kremlin later explained that he was referring to anti-Semitic rather than Zionist agenda.
But most productive year in terms of Q&A gaffes was 2006. During the session Putin said “nobody needs Russia” instead of “nobody has Russia’s debts,” pledged to “keep the pay gap between the rich and the poor” instead of promising to narrow it and erroneously stated that Georgia had volunteered to join “the Russian Federation,” when in fact the country was called ‘the Russian Empire’ when Georgia requested to become a constituent part in the late 18th century.
No sending kill squads after traitors
Putin’s usual focused demeanor and a reputation of being a calculative player in the game of politics makes some people believe that he never allows emotion to affect his actions. The president himself said that compartmentalizing emotions and judgment is necessary for a public servant.
Yet at times he demonstrated public emotional outbursts, as in 2010, when he spoke about whether he would send assassins after traitors. This was shortly after the US exposed and expelled 10 Russian spies, with media attention focusing on the young and attractive Anna Chapman. The spy ring was busted by another Russian intelligence agent, who defected to the US, it was revealed. Putin, himself an intelligence officer in the past, praised the men and women involved.
“Intelligence agents sacrifice their lives for their Motherland. They have to learn the language as their own, be separated from their families, have no chance to go home and bury their loved ones. Just think about it,” Putin said.
“And now this jerk betrayed those people. How will he live on with this? How he will look his children in the eye, the pig?” he snarled. “Whatever 30 silver pieces he got for it, he will choke on them.”
However he said Russia would not act Soviet-style and send assassins after the person responsible for the bust. His or her exile would be punishment enough, he said.
Talking shop with Snowden
On other occasions Putin’s KGB past was the butt of jokes. Last year he talked shop with NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, who was granted asylum in Russia after exposing the global invasive electronic surveillance program by the US government and its allies. Snowden was one of the people that asked their questions via a telelink.
“Mr. Snowden. You are a former agent; I used to be in the intelligence. So let us speak in professional language,” Putin started his reply to whether Russia had similar programs for bulk collection of data.
The president assured that Russia has neither legal framework nor the desire to spend the same amount of resources as the US does to indiscriminately spy on people’s communications.
Rags-to-riches kids in Lamborghinis
Sarcastic comments are Putin’s trademark, and his Q&A sessions give a lot of opportunity for his witticisms. In 2009 he scolded nouveau riche Russians in a comment on a scandal that involves several youths from Russia in sport cars, reckless races on Swiss roads and an eventual collision with the car of an elderly German.
“In Soviet times some folks would show off their wealth by having gold teeth, preferably incisors. Lamborghinis and other expensive trinkets are like those teeth. These people who brag their wealth, especially with millions of Russians living relatively poor lives, are no different from those showing off their gold teeth,” Putin said.
Russian bear in Taiga
At times Putin uses similarly metaphorical language to describe political issues. Last year he compared Russia with a bear living in Siberian forests - known as the Taiga - guarding his land but not wishing to get more of it.
“They won’t leave [the bear] alone,” he said in a reference to some foreign countries seeking to undermine Russia. “They will always seek to chain it. And once it’s chained, they’ll rip out its teeth and claws. The nuclear deterrent, speaking in present-day terms."
“As soon as this happens, nobody will need [the bear] anymore. They’ll stuff it. And start to put their hands on its Taiga after it. We’ve heard statements from Western officials that Russia’s owning Siberia was not fair,” he added.
Later he commented on whether Russia would seek to return Alaska, which was part of Russian Empire before being sold to the US, similarly to how it returned Crimea.
“Faina Ivanovna, my dear, why would you need Alaska,” Putin replied to the elderly woman’s question. “We are a northern country. Seventy percent of our territory is in the north or extreme north. Alaska is cold too. Let’s not get carried away.”
Who wants Putin’s job?
In 2009 one caller suggested taking Putin’s job, who was Russia’s prime minister at the time. The man said it would allow Putin to abandon politics and live a life for his pleasure.
“You won’t live to see it,” was the reply to the retirement offer.
“But if somebody feels the need to work, we can consider it and offer a place to fulfill the potential.”
Senator McCain ‘went nuts in Nam pit’
Occasionally Putin gets pretty harsh in his criticism. He accused some members of the Russian opposition of being hungry for power and money, implied that a former oil tycoon had ordered people to be killed and even said in 2011 that US hawkish Senator John McCain “went nuts” during his Vietnam War captivity.
“Mr. McCain was taken prisoner in Vietnam and was put, not just in jail, but in a pit! He sat there for several years. Any person would go nuts from that!” Putin said in a comment after McCain said that Putin may end his life as Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi did.
Gaddafi was brutally executed by US-supported rebels after NATO bombing campaign devastated his army and sent him fleeing for his life.
“Mr. McCain is known to have fought in Vietnam. I believe he has enough civilian blood on his hands. Is it that he can’t live without such horrible disgusting scenes as the butchering of Gaddafi?” Putin lashed.
‘Drunken’ journo quizzing Putin
Arguably the strangest episode in the 12 Q&A sessions came last year when a provincial journalist requested Putin’s support for a local soft drinks producer. The journalist had a speech impediment, which led to many commentators concluding that he was drunk.
The flood of sarcastic comments escalated when a video commercial for the drink the journalist petitioned for was found on YouTube. The ad was racy, to put it mildly, featuring topless girls and foamy fountains of the brewage flying from a male actor in almost-pornographic manner.
The chorus of sneering voices on social media about the ‘drunken journo’ promoting ‘explicit drink’ quieted after his employer, a local newspaper, revealed that the man had actually survived two strokes over the previous year, explaining his speech problems.
The drink has since then reportedly gone international, with plans to launch it in Germany and some other European countries announced this year.