Putin Blindsided: Hard Questions Crack Through Kremlin Firewall in Annual Q&A

Russian President Vladimir Putin revived two of his political traditions on Thursday. One of them followed the script and the other went off track.

Putin’s tradition has been to have a press conference at the end of each year and an open Q&A with the public. He took a break last year from both after his invasion of Ukraine caused Russia to suffer enormous economic losses and a massive loss in its military. It also made him appear smaller and less powerful.

It was exactly what you would expect from a press corps who knows that a lack of adoring copies can result in a prison, an excursion in one of Ukraine’s meat grinders, or standing in front of your window at home. The questions were “tough”, but only to give the impression of a Potemkin-style free press. There were no follow-up questions, so the issue was settled by Putin’s nonanswers.

The fun begins when the Q&A call starts.

“When will the war be over?”  “When will the peace talks start?”

“Public officials own accounts and properties overseas. Their children also study abroad.” Why would they be interested in Russia’s interest, and how do they hold such high positions?

“Public officials have accounts and property overseas, their children study there too. Why would they care about Russia’s interests, and how can they occupy such high positions?”

“Why does your reality differ from ours?”

“We’ve sent gas to China, to Europe, when will Khakassia [region of Siberia, Russia] receive gas?”

“Mr President, when will real Russia stop being different from the one on TV?”

“Hello, how can I move to the Russia they talk about on Channel One?”

“For how long will you keep manipulating the percentage of inflation?”

“Why does a tray of eggs cost 550 roubles [~ $6] in Dagestan?”

“If Crimea is part of Russia, why does my mobile network switch on roaming after crossing the bridge to Crimea?”

“Cucumbers 900 roubles/kilo, tomatoes 950 roubles/kilo, lettuce costs 1,500. I won’t even bring up the price of fruit. Give us normal prices!”

It’s not that all of the questions were edgy. Most were the usual fawning Biden press conference questions, such as “When will Zelensky come to his senses?” The questions were displayed on screen and then someone allowed them to be read. After reading the transcript I’m not sure if any questions or answers were asked.

I assume there was a propaganda strategy behind these rogue, leaking questions. I don’t think that the producers let the rogue questions slip through, nor do I believe they were asked by real people. There is a risk in allowing these questions to be asked, no matter what the strategy. A large number of Russians – not just those who are on the left of the IQ Bell Curve – have never thought much about them and will now.