Russian President Vladimir Putin doled out parenting advice, mused on the difficulty of pork imports and compared the struggle for happiness to a massive drinking bout on Thursday, in another of the marathon question-and-answer (Q&A) sessions that have become a hallmark of his authoritarian rule.
Sitting in a shiny studio peopled with uniformed soldiers, athletes, doctors and more, a heavily bronzed Putin held forth for 4 hours, 47 minutes, beating his previous record by 15 minutes.
State-run media excitedly declared the event “record-making,” saying citizens had sent the president more than 3 million questions.
Putin was asked to comment on rising gasoline prices, the potential bankruptcy of a meat factory and the identity of his favorite singer.
He declined to comment on the latter, saying: “That’s like asking what team you support. It seems to me it would be incorrect to speak about this.”
Questions were beamed in from across the nation. Speaking from their home in the far eastern village of Novoshakhtinsky, a family that had adopted 12 children begged Putin for financial aid.
One of their daughters said: “I’d like to ask you on behalf of all the kids in our family to allot us a playground.”
“I promise you, my dear, a playground,” the president replied.
An hour later, a moderator announced that local authorities had promised to construct a new playground in the village.
The highly orchestrated Q&As have become the most public way for Putin to present himself as the solver of all the country’s problems.
“I think that this format is very useful and needed both for me and the country,” he said.
He appeared to revel in the attention and accepted most questions with glee.
Putin’s mood turned slightly sour when he was asked a series of questions about the recent death of Boris Berezovsky, the oligarch credited with pushing Putin into the presidency more than a decade ago. The two fell out spectacularly after Putin asserted his independence and Berezovsky spent the remainder of his life in self-imposed exile in London, where he won political asylum.
The president confirmed rumors that he had received letters from the fallen oligarch asking for forgiveness — the first in February and the second after his death last month.
“The texts of both are the same,” Putin said, adding that one was delivered by a Russian former associate of Berezovsky’s — widely rumored to be Roman Abramovich, the owner of Chelsea soccer club — and the other by a foreign associate.
The one challenging question came from Alexey Venediktov, editor-in-chief of Echo Moskvy, Russia’s leading liberal radio station, who asked about the Stalinist character of the Kremlin’s recent crackdown on the opposition, including a series of political trials.
“I don’t think there are any elements of Stalinism here,” Putin said. “Stalinism is linked with a cult of personality and massive violations of the law, with repression and camps. There is nothing like that in Russia and, I hope, will never again be. That does not mean there should not be order and discipline.”
During a final lightning round of questions, Putin was asked whether he was happy: “I’m eternally grateful to fate and the citizens of Russia that they’ve trusted me to be the head of the Russian government. This is my whole life. If that’s enough for happiness is a separate theme.”
Finally, he was asked: “When will everything be OK?”
He replied: “People who like to drink say that it’s impossible to drink all the vodka, but you have to try. Everything will probably never be OK. But we have to try for it.”