‘Voters will decide’: Putin on succession question, plus other highlights of annual Q&A

‘Voters will decide’: Putin on succession question, plus other highlights of annual Q&A
The pressing question of who will be Russia’s next president was among those Vladimir Putin addressed during his latest annual Q&A session. The Russian leader refrained from saying whether he would seek reelection, saying it’s up to the people to decide.

“Certainly, one day I will make up my mind. I don’t see anything bad in sharing my preferences [about the future president of Russia]. But ultimately let’s not forget that only the voters, Russian citizens, can determine who will lead,” Putin said.

The remark at Thursday’s Q&A session comes amid uncertainty over Putin’s plans for next year, when Russia will hold its next presidential election.

The annual event, which is officially called, “Direct line with the president,” wrapped up with a fishing question on his possible bid: whether there would be another direct line with Vladimir Putin. The president dodged it, joking: “If there is one, it will certainly be direct.”

Putin added a bit more suspense after the televised session was over, saying he didn’t see anything wrong with long-serving leaders, as long as it is in accordance with the law.

“I look at what happens in other countries. And there you go, we know how political processes go there, we know political veterans. It’s basically normal, as long as it confirms democratic procedures and the nation’s law,” he told journalists. “Nobody broke the law here in that regard.”

Putin is currently serving his third term as Russian president. The Russian constitution says no person can hold the office more than twice in a row, which explains why in 2008 he supported the candidacy of Dmitry Medvedev and served as prime minister before running for the presidency again in 2012. At that time, the presidential term in Russia had been extended to six years, with the next election scheduled for March 2018.

‘Priceless’ Syrian experience

The Q&A session has become an annual tradition in Russia, during which the president answers questions submitted by people throughout the country. Usually focused on domestic issues, this year’s talk was particularly lacking in any international agenda, and the few questions asked about other countries Putin answered mostly briefly.

One such question was about what Russia gets from its military campaign in Syria, where Russian warplanes and special operations troops are supporting the government in its counter-terrorism efforts. Putin said the Syrian campaign is providing “absolutely priceless experience” for the Russian armed forces, which allows them to better protect the country.

“The use of modern weapons has allowed [producers] to see how they perform in real combat and improve those newest systems accordingly. We knew they were already good, but testing them in combat is quite a different story,” he said.

Putin added that the Syrian campaign allowed the Russian armed forces to “rise to a new qualitative level.” He stressed, however, that Russia’s goal is to “establish a peaceful process of reconciliation between all sides of the conflict.” Yet, Moscow’s imminent aim is to “to boost the capability of the Syrian army” which would allow Russian forces to go back to “[the] Khmeimim [air base] and Tartus naval base, allowing the Syrian forces to function efficiently and achieve the necessary goals.”

If required, Russia will continue to provide air support for the Syrian troops in their anti-terrorism fight, Putin added.

Sanctions, protests, scripted questions

The majority of calls to the president focused on callers’ grievances and concerns, such as having a landfill near a house or getting due compensation after a flood. A representative of Russian agriculture was worried about the eventual lifting of the Russian ban of food import from the EU, which Moscow imposed in retaliation for anti-Russian sanctions issued by the 28-nation bloc. Putin remarked that the industry should be developed enough and well entrenched in the market to compete with European farmers when that day comes.

He also said that Russia has been historically living under some sort of sanctions from the West ever since the country started “standing on its feet” in global affairs – and that they are actually a tool of economic competition. “If there were no situation with Crimea and other problems, they would have invented something else to contain Russia,” he said.

The president reiterated his position about mass protests, which he sees as a normal way for the people to voice their dissent with the government – as long as they don’t violate the law. He emphasized that he listens to the voice of the opposition.

“I am prepared to talk to anyone whose goal is to improve people’s lives, to solve the problems that the country is facing, as opposed to use the problems, which always exists anywhere, to score political points, to profit from such problems while making them worse,” Putin said. “People suggesting solutions deserve utmost attention and deserve a dialogue with the government.”

The remark came amid a series of mass protests in Russia over the perceived corruption of the government, a controversial plan in Moscow to demolish old housing and other issues. When questioned whether he extended the principle “we don’t give up on our own” to corrupt subordinates, Putin said he didn’t consider such people “his own.” He also denied that the entire event was staged and all questions were pre-scripted, as one question addressed to him stated.

During the Q&A session, questions to the president were floating on screens in the studio, including those openly critical such as: “Perhaps you're tired and you should quit?” and statements such as, “Three [presidential] terms is enough.”

No royal treatment for Putin’s grandchildren

When asked to give some insight into the personal life of his family and himself, Putin explained why he tries to keep his daughters and grandchildren away from public attention.

“I don’t want them to grow up as some kind of royalty, I want them to grow up as normal people. And for that they need normal communication with other children. If I drop a name and age, they would be identified at once and won’t be left alone,” he said, adding that his second grandson was born “recently.” The president previously confirmed being a grandfather in an interview with film director Oliver Stone.

The Russian leader also shared some anecdotes from his life, such as catching a 20-kilogram fish, though he joked that somebody may have added a weight during the weighing process to flatter his ego. Another funny question was about what time he would choose to travel to if he had a time machine. Putin said he’d like to see Russia’s history, but would not indulge his curiosity if he risked altering it.

Putin also described how he deals with somebody trying to deceive him.

“I believe everyone sitting here had the experience when somebody was trying to deceive him,” he told his audience. “I am a human being and this happens to me, too. But even when I see I am being lied to, I try not to act rashly. Before reacting, even if I am convinced that was a lie, I always try to understand what that person wanted and why. And I never forget.”