Putin holds an annual news conference, call-in, in anticipation of re-election

MOSCOW – Russian President Vladimir Putin addressed his countrymen in a marathon news conference on Thursday, with his armed forces still under attack in Ukraine and a re-election campaign underway at home. Until Russia achieves its goals.

Moderators at the conference immediately turned to the war in Ukraine, asking Putin to discuss one of the most pressing issues: military mobilization. Putin ruled out another wave of conscription, saying a vigorous Defense Ministry campaign to attract contract soldiers had succeeded in recruiting 486,000 men and that 1,500 enlisted every day.

Putin signaled his confidence in going ahead with the invasion, saying there would be peace with Ukraine “only when we achieve our goals,” which he identified as “Nazification” and “militarization.” Although ill-defined, Putin made it clear that his intentions amounted to the capitulation of Kiev.

“In the line of communication of our armed forces, we will say modestly, we are improving their condition, almost everyone is active, and there is an improvement in the condition of our troops,” Putin said.

The Russian leader said the Ukrainian counteroffensive was “not out” and that he believed Western support for Ukraine would eventually collapse.

“Today, Ukraine produces almost nothing,” Putin said, referring to military equipment and weapons. “Everything is brought in for free. But the freebies come to an end at some point, and obviously it’s coming to an end a little bit.

The Russian president repeated his false claims that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky leads a Nazi regime, and he insisted that Russia’s military was destroying weapons supplied to Kiev by the United States and other Western countries.

At the beginning of the program, called “The Year’s Results with Vladimir Putin”, he described the war in Ukraine as “a great tragedy, akin to a civil war between brothers”, but insisted that southeastern Ukraine was historically Russian. He again blamed Ukraine, Kiev’s refusal to accept normal relations with Russia, and accused the United States and Europe of facilitating the conflict and “leading us to a tragedy.”

Putin’s “direct line” call-in program allows ordinary Russians to ask the president about issues ranging from leaking pipes to the economic crisis, while the news conference offers a rare opportunity for invited journalists to ask questions directly to the Russian leader.

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Putin, who is completing his 24th year as Russia’s supreme political leader, has used heavily staged events to lay out his vision for domestic and foreign policy, presiding with a royal aloofness as journalists vie for his attention and citizens ask him for help.

Generally, events are held annually and on separate dates. But in the tumultuous first year of the Ukraine invasion, after repeated battlefield setbacks and a chaotic military mobilization, Putin has not subjected himself to such public exposure.

However, last month, the Kremlin announced that the two events would be held simultaneously in a “combined format”. One objective, which appeared to herald Putin’s fifth presidential campaign in elections scheduled for March, is that the Kremlin controls all major media outlets, jails opponents and harshly punishes dissent against the regime.

The joint media extravaganza was held at Kostini Dvor, now used as an exhibition and conference hall, close to Red Square – where the military and security services maintain strong air defences. In the past year, the Russian capital has been hit by several drone attacks – including an attack on the Kremlin in May that Russia said was aimed at Putin but was foiled. Ukrainian authorities denied an assassination attempt.

Even for Putin’s purported supporters, the news conference and call-in show highlighted his authoritarian, authoritarian regime and, by contrast, the incompetence of national, regional and local government institutions.

“For most, this is the only hope and opportunity to solve their most pressing problems,” Russian state TV anchor Nikolai Zusik said during a recent news broadcast, inadvertently underscoring Putin’s growing isolation and the ineffectiveness of Russia’s sprawling bureaucracy.

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Russian authorities have widely cracked down on dissent, particularly criticism of the war — banishing most independent news outlets from the country and jailing political opposition figures who refuse to flee.

The rules for entering Thursday’s news conference resembled those of crossing an international border during the pandemic: a coronavirus test and results of flu A and B tests sent directly to the Kremlin, a passport and two forms of press authorization.

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Participants who passed through four security checkpoints were given a list of 26 prohibited items, including Nazi paraphernalia, flags, disguises, aerosols, radioactive devices, toxic chemicals, household chemicals, narcotics, animals, drones, bicycles, food and water bottles. Weapons, ammunition and pyrotechnics – making it clear that fireworks should come only from Putin.

Journalists from far-flung Russian regions dressed in flashy, attention-grabbing colors or national costumes to catch the president’s eye when they were invited to a question. Usually, those queries are about some unresolved parochial issue, which the President promises to resolve. Journalists were also invited from the occupied territories of Ukraine, which Putin declared annexed to Russia, in violation of international law.

But having purged liberal-progressive elements of society that opposed Putin’s push for a more conservative and authoritarian Russia, the Kremlin now faces pressure from the wives and mothers of soldiers forced to fight in Ukraine during an unpopular mobilization. Many did not return home after that and worked effectively in the trenches for 15 months.

On Thursday, Putin repeated his assertion that Russia was not responsible for the war and hammered home his false interpretation that a “coup” had resulted in Ukraine’s Maidan revolution in 2013-14. Indeed, tens of thousands of Ukrainians protested the decision of then-President Viktor Yanukovych, under pressure from Moscow, not to sign political and economic agreements with the EU that he had promised to sign. With protesters in Kiev’s main square, Yanukovych fled to Russia.

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Ahead of Putin’s event, activists from The Way Home, a group that unites the wives and mothers of demobilized Russian fighters, said they had sent hundreds of petitions demanding that demobilized men be returned home — in an effort to fulfill the Kremlin’s promise. Submissions to “Direct Line” will be reviewed and resolved.

“Fill them with your messages and blow up their phones until the end of the line,” reads a post on The Way Home Telegram channel, urging family members to formally end Putin’s mobilization, which he never did. .

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“Would this be deliberately overlooked? Our patience is running out,” said another message. “Remember that we should not raise issues of rotation, holidays, allowances, benefits, but we should raise the actual mobilization of our men.”

Since it was created in September, the group has nearly 35,000 members.

Its organizers said Russian state media had attempted to “discredit” the group, and that law enforcement officials had visited many activists’ homes to warn them of possible punishments for online posts or participation in unauthorized demonstrations.

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According to Russian officials, at least 300,000 men were mobilized last fall, although that number is widely believed to be an underestimate.

Whatever Putin said about growing discontent among the families of Russian soldiers, his general message about the prospects of the war in Ukraine — which enters its third year at the end of February — was central Thursday.

Last week, Putin confirmed he would run, paving the way to stay in power until 2030. The announcement came from a Russian military official who told a group of state media reporters to run on Putin’s behalf. Soldiers fighting in Ukraine — and the president agreed.

The officer, Lt. Col. Artyom Zhoka, took over the reins of the ultranationalist Sparta battalion in 2022 from his son, who died of wounds sustained in Ukraine.

“In general, it is a sign that Putin was nominated by the children who died there,” said Russian political consultancy R. Politik founder Tatiana Stanovaya, now based in Paris, wrote in a Telegram post. “I don’t think it’s a coincidence, it was used partly as a response to the opposition of the wives and mothers of the mobilized.”

“The Kremlin shows that there are two types of behavior in society: true patriots are ready to give up the most precious thing for the motherland,” Stanovaya added. [those] … Who does not understand what the country is fighting for.

Ilyushina reports from Riga, Latvia. Natalia Appakumova in Riga and Francesca Ebel in Moscow contributed reporting.

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