Russian President Vladimir Putin took questions from the media in a marathon three-and-a-half hour press conference today that covered everything from Gerard Depardieu to the end of the world, and even a few things that actually matter. RT.com gathered all the best quotes, but some of the other highlights are below.
Putin naturally saved some of his harshest words for Americans, who have angered many Russians with the recent passage of the Magnitsky Act, which puts travel and other economic restrictions on Russian officials for the death of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky while he was in jail. Putin said it would be un-Christian to retaliate, but that "Maybe I am a bad Christian," adding that that he finds the Duma's proposal to ban American citizens from adopting Russian children to be an "adequate" response. Plus, people die under suspicious circumstances in American prisons all the time, so who are we to talk about Magnitsky's demise?
His most newsworthy comments, however, were about Syria. He continues to hold Moscow's standard position that diplomacy and negotiation are the way to end to the Syrian conflict, but seemed to accept the growing consensus that Bashar al-Assad is doomed. In comparing Syria to the situation in Libya, Putin suggested that he's worried about Western intervention, not because it might take down the existing government, but because it would rob Russia of its influence in the region:
"We are not concerned about what happens with Assad. We realize that his family has been in power for 40 years and that change is needed. We care about what happens afterwards."
However, despite saying he wants to avoid Syria's "disintegration" — or a scenario where the opposition becomes the government, but the fighting continues — Putin still is not calling for any military intervention that would stop the war.
Of course, when you sit still for nearly four hours and let dozens of journalists hurl questions at you, you're going to get some weird ones, too. Putin was asked about Gerard Depardieu ("we have a very friendly, personal relationship"), saying he would happily offer the French tax dodger a Russian passport; what it's like to be a grandfather (no comment); whether he considers himself a dictator ("If I thought a totalitarian or an authoritarian system is preferable, I would just change the constitution"); his failing health; ("[Such rumors] are benefiting the political opponents, who want to question the authorities’ legitimacy and sanity"); and of course, the theory that ancient Mayans predicted that the world will end tomorrow.
“It will all end in 4.5 billion years, the reaction will stop and the Sun will turn into a White Dwarf… I don’t believe the world will end this year.”
Finally, a world leader dropping some science on your heads.
Short summary of the Putin presser: 3hours 25 mins, 37 questions - only four from non Russian media. Applause from some journos.— Lenka Kabrhelova (@Lenkakab) December 20, 2012