Russian President Vladimir Putin took questions for four hours in another one of his famous live TV Q&As on Thursday, fielding and dodging inquiries, about Ukraine, Crimea, Alaska, Obama's willingness to let him drown, and Russia's participation in spying on its people. That last one was asked by surprise guest Edward Snowden, naturally.
Snowden, who has been residing in Russia under asylum for about eight months, appeared via webcam to ask Putin to share his stance on mass surveillance of civilians. The softball setup — Putin replied with a resounding "no," adding that he is against spying on his people — was regarded as rather bold PR stunt.
Aside from this patriotic interjection, the hours-long press conference focused mostly on propping up the Kremlin's official policies and defending Russia's actions in Ukraine.
Reporting from Ukraine, the Kyiv Post highlighted some of the more contentious aspects of his address. For one, they point out, Putin referred to east Ukraine as "Novorussiya," saying it must "defend those people" (meaning ethnic Russians and Russian-speakers in Ukraine), and echoing the justification used to annex Crimea.
As a barometer for Eastern European tensions escaling, don't think it's constructive that Putin is now calling Eastern Ukraine "Novorussiya"— Christopher Vecchio (@CVecchioFX) April 17, 2014
Putin also threatened to shut off Ukraine's gas, something he has done before. He also offered some harsh words to Nato.
Putin says NATO's missile defense plans are actually offensive weapons that threaten #Russia. Warns could lead to arms race— Kirit Radia (@KiritRadia) April 17, 2014
Dimitri Kiselyov, the Kremlin's new propaganda chief, asks Putin where #Russia's red line is on NATO expansion. Says he feels suffocated— Kirit Radia (@KiritRadia) April 17, 2014
Putin also says he was personally offended by NATO's chief, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who recorded and published a conversation between himself and the Russian president back when Rasmussen was Danish prime minister. This obviously put a damper on the relationship. Russian news agency Itar-Tass quotes Putin as saying, "I couldn’t believe my ears and eyes — it’s nonsense!... What trust can there be after such incidents?”
Putin spoke to the generally fraught U.S.-Russia ties as well, saying "we are partners and I still hope we have a future for our relationship." When asked (by a six-year-old child) whether President Barack Obama would save him if he was drowning, Putin said yes, but mostly because Obama is a good person. "I don't think I have a close personal relationship with Obama," he said.
However, the Russian leader was kind enough to concede that he will not attempt to take back Alaska, saying to the woman who inquired about it, "My dear, why do you want Alaska? ... It's cold there, too.”
As usual, the press release was peppered with some laughably false statements about the president's style of leadership:
"In my current job I always listen to my colleagues opinions, even if I don't like them, and I always think about what they say," says Putin— max seddon (@maxseddon) April 17, 2014
The conference comes as unrest in east Ukraine turns violent once again. Overnight, three pro-Russia separatists were killed in clashes in the volatile region, an event Putin cited as an example of Ukraine's poor government control. He said during the press conference that "Instead of realizing that there is something wrong with the Ukrainian government and attempting dialogue, they made more threats of force ... This is another very grave crime by Kiev's current leaders..." He added, "I hope that they are able to realize what a pit, what an abyss the current authorities are in and dragging the country into." He also said that he "hopes" he won't have to send troops into east Ukraine, but has reserved the right to use force if he sees fit.
Putin's Q&A, a more or less annual event, also takes place on the same day that representatives from the EU, U.S., Russia, and Ukraine meet in Geneva to discuss the crisis. If Putin was hoping to ratchet up some goodwill with the U.S., he probably shouldn't have made Snowden his featured guest.