This press conference was Vladimir Putin’s 8th Q&A session for journalists. This time it was of particular political importance being the first since Putin was elected president early this year.
As expected, the so-called Dima Yakovlev Bill evoked the largest number of questions. This week the lower house of the Russian parliament introduced a ban on US citizens adopting children from Russia. The ban, approved in three readings as an amendment to the Dima Yakovlev Bill, was passed in response to the Magnitsky Act, which slapped visa restrictions on Russian officials whom Washington accused of involvement in the death of Hermitage Capital lawyer Sergei Magnitsky. Putin received a total of eight questions related to the adoption issue. A journalist described these amendments as disproportionate and inappropriate. President Putin disagreed. His answer was emotional but firm.
"Our measures are not aimed against certain individuals – we took them to respond to child rights violations and child abuses. We resorted to these measures in connection with the attitude of the US authorities. The American authorities won’t allow Russian representatives to participate in adoption disputes, even as observers. It’s humiliating. It isn’t normal."
The United States used Magnitsky’s death as a pretext for passing anti-Russian legislation. If it hadn’t been Magnitsky, they would have thought of something else. Putin thanked the American lawmakers for pointing out Russia’s faults. He made it clear, however, that there are as many breaches of this kind in the US as well.
"Sergei Magnitsky did not die of torture. He died of a heart attack. The inquiry into his case is set to establish whether he received or didn’t receive medical assistance in due time. People die in US prisons as well, and it isn’t our business to establish the causes. American law enforcers seize people in countries all over the world, in violation of the law. Such cases are plentiful."
President Putin answered a question about former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khorodkovsky, whose prison term has been reduced from 13 to 11 years. This became possible thanks to moves to liberalize the Russian legislation, Putin said.
"As for Mikhail Khodorkovsky, his case is not political and no one is persecuting him for personal reasons. Khodorkovsky was not involved in political activity. He was not a parliamentary deputy. He didn’t head a political party. He was jailed on charges of fraud and tax evasion."
A considerable number of questions to President Putin focused on issues of international concern. Despite the existing differences, Russia and the US are not foes, the president said. Vladimir Putin hopes for a constructive dialogue with Japan and normalization with Georgia. While praising political and economic cooperation with France, President Putin spoke highly of the unprecedented level of trust in relations with China. When asked about the situation in Syria, the Russian president said it wasn’t the future of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime that worried Russia.
"We are worried about what will come next. We don’t want the opposition, once it comes to power, to go into war with the current authorities, which will become the opposition, and so on. Russia is more concerned about finding a solution that would save the region from collapse and civil war than about pursuing its interests in the region, which aren’t that many anyway."
Russian and foreign experts expressed satisfaction about Putin’s Q&A conference. Polish analyst Adam Bobryk commented on his impressions of the conference in an interview with a Voice of Russia correspondent.
"President Putin was concerned about issues to do with state reforms and state effectiveness. He called for transparency in decision-making, measures against corruption and development of new technology. A number of issues raised by President Putin had to do with population growth and other social problems. President Putin said he had struck an effective relationship with the prime minister, which is important. In some countries, competition between the president and prime minister leads to negative consequences."
President Putin received more than 80 questions in four and a half hours that his conference was under way. Journalists asked questions about Russia’s membership in the WTO, the judicial system, opposition rallies, high-profile corruption cases, and even the end of the world which many believed would come on December 21st . The president also answered questions concerning his health and his family life. One of the journalists passed best regards and presents from his school teachers.
At the end of the conference, President Putin thanked media representatives for their friendly attitude and apologized to those whose questions he couldn’t answer or answered differently from what they had expected.