Putin in the annual conference

This year’s annual press conference of Russian President Vladimir Putin lasted four and a half hours. The focus was on the Corona pandemic, price increases, social ills and Russia’s relationship with other states. Vladimir Putin said that Russia can be proud of its achievements in the fight against the Corona virus by international comparison. Russia is not afraid of an arms race. For, despite a much smaller defense budget, Russia is ahead of the Americans in hypersonic weapons, thanks to smart minds. Despite a coronal decline in production, Russia is doing much better today than it was in the 1990s, when people had to wait months for pensions and wages.

A journalist close to the government asked about the Navalny case

The “SPIEGEL” had apparently hoped that the “investigation” on the Navalny case, presented together with Bellingcat and CNN, would strike like a bomb at Putin’s annual conference. But that was not the case. None of the journalists defended the SPIEGEL’s “investigation.”

According to Putin’s opinion of the SPIEGEL “investigation”, no Kremlin critic asked, but a journalist from the pro-government internet portal Life.ru. The journalist asked the entirely objective question, “why has no proceedings been initiated so far for his poisoning and who poisoned him”.

Putin: Legalization of intelligence claims

Putin replied that the material presented by SPIEGEL and others was not an investigation, but “a legalization” of us intelligence agencies. “The patient of the Berlin clinic receives support from the US intelligence services,” Putin said. The Russian president does not mention Navalny’s name in principle.

For SPIEGEL Online, Putin’s statements at the annual press conference on the Navalny case were “bizarre.” Since Navalny, with his endless anti-corruption campaigns, is working precisely on the programme for “colorful revolutions” developed in the UNITED States in Eastern Europe, Putin’s accusation is at least not pulled by the hair. Moreover, the Russian president, who himself worked long in the KGB and later in the FSB, can hardly be blamed for a lack of expertise in how intelligence agencies operate.

Putin: FSB employees also use phones

Putin told the annual press conference that FSB employees were using phones in places “where they think they don’t have to hide.” This statement seems more realistic than bizarre.

Because the US intelligence services supported Navalny, the Russian secret service had to keep an eye on the “Berlin patient”. “But,” Putin said, “that doesn’t mean you have to kill him at all. Who is interested? If you wanted to (kill him, UH), you probably would have finished it. But his wife turned to me and I gave the order in a second to let him leave for Germany for care.”

Unfortunately, the Russian president said, the “broad public” does not understand that the lie of poisoning Navalny is aimed at high-profile figures, such as the Russian president. In the political struggle, such “tricks” would be used.

Putin warned that in order to get attention, “you don’t have to work with tricks, but come up with a concrete program that is so realistic that it can be applied in a specific country, in this case our country.” The Russian president said he called on “all our opponents” not to be “guided by ambitions” but to “present a positive program” to resolve the issues facing Russia.

Online press conference spread across multiple cities

The Russian president’s annual press conference was organized as an online event and with security distances because of the pandemic. The Russian president appeared in front of a small circle of journalists at his suburban residence Novo-Ogaryovo. Online, a large hall with two hundred Russian and foreign journalists was in the Moscow International Trade Center and several smaller halls in various Russian cities where journalists from regional media had gathered.

A total of 60 questions were asked to the Russian president. It wasn’t just journalists who asked. In addition, questions and complaints from citizens were read out from a call centre.

The main theme of the event was the Corona Virus pandemic. In Moscow, companies are obliged to employ 30 percent of their employees from home. Higher-grade students receive online lessons at home. People over the age of 65 are encouraged to stay at home and leave the house only for the most necessary errands.

“A sea of problems”

Putin said there was “a sea of problems” because of the coronavirus. But it is “safe to say that we have solved these problems in a dignified and partly better way than other countries in the world that are rightly proud of a stable economy and a developed social and health system.”

The Kremlin chief said Russia reacted quickly after the first news of the coronavirus infections in China, giving it time to take appropriate action. The number of hospital beds has tripled to a total of 277,000 by building 40 Corona centres. Russia has also caught up quickly in the production of masks and medicines. According to the World Health Organization, Russia ranks third in the tests. A contract has been signed with the British-Swedish company AstraZeneca.

Russia is the first country to start producing vaccines against the corona virus. The vaccines are called Sputnik V and Vector. Putin said he would get vaccinated as soon as the vaccine was available for his age group. According to the Russian president, mass vaccination is the best way to achieve immunity on a national scale.

Russian vaccine cans should also be produced abroad

By the beginning of next year, “millions of doses of vaccination” will be in place. Production capacities will be rapidly expanded. So far, the technical equipment in Russia is not sufficient to produce the necessary number of vaccine doses. For this reason, it is planned to produce components for the vaccine cans also in foreign countries. The aim is to vaccinate 70 million people, half the population of Russia, against the corona virus.

Alevtina Kilselova, a volunteer who received calls from citizens from all over Russia during the annual press conference at the Moscow call center, told the Russian president about the harsh reality in the country. The volunteer said there were problems with the tests and problems calling a doctor to his home. There is a shortage of medicines in pharmacies and hospitals. You have to wait a week for an ambulance. In the Murmansk, Sverdlovsk and Nizhny Novgorod region, there would be problems in paying the promised surcharges for doctors working with corona-infected patients. Cleaning and kitchen staff who have direct contact with Corona patients often do not get the promised salary supplements.

Putin said 168 million euros had been transferred to the regions for protective suits and free medicines for people who cure their corona infection at home. Why the money did not seem to have reached everywhere must be clarified. All complaints about inadequacies will be pursued. Only recently, the senators from these areas told him that “everything is fine”. The cases will now be investigated more closely, the president said.

Aleksandr Gamov, a well-known editor of the newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda, did not spare criticism either. The editor reported that he received calls from the regions. People told him that life has never been so hard, poverty is rising, the poor are getting even poorer, unemployment is rising, and incomes and life expectancy are falling. Prices have also risen since August.

Vladimir Putin replied that it was not true that life in Russia has never been as difficult as it is now. In 2000, 29 percent of people lived below the poverty line. Today it is 13.5 percent.

The reason for the price increases is that Russian exporters set their prices for cereals, sugar and other staples according to the world market price. The Russian government must counteract this by increasing tariffs. According to Putin, he hopes that there will be a “facilitation” in prices in a few weeks' time.

Russia’s financial cushion is growing

According to the Kremlin chief, Russia’s economic and financial situation is painful. Gross domestic product fell by 3.6 percent, he said. But that is less than in europe’s leading countries and less than in the US. In the UK, gross domestic product fell by nine percent. In Russia, there would also be an increase of 1.1 percent in the manufacturing sector in October and November 2020. In agriculture, the increase was as high as 1.8 percent.

Putin said real incomes fell by 3 percent and unemployment rose to 6.3 percent from 4.7 percent at the start of the year. National programmes to modernise the Russian economy, develop artificial intelligence and other technology programmes will be maintained.

Russia’s financial reserves are growing, Putin said. Reserves in foreign currencies have risen from 554 at the beginning of the year to 587 billion dollars now. The reserves of the National Wealth Fund have increased from EUR 86 billion to EUR 149 billion. Seventy percent of the Russian budget’s revenue does not come from the oil and gas sector. Russia can no longer be called a “gas station”.