On December 17, Russian President Vladimir Putin held his 16th annual major press conference. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the conference was held in remote format: Putin was staying at his Novo-Ogaryovo residence, federal and foreign journalists were accommodated at the Moscow World Trade Center, while regional reporters were working in their regions at special sites.
Several journalists from the Kremlin pool attended the event with Putin in Novo-Ogaryovo. It was reported that those journalists had to spend more than two weeks in isolation to be able to attend the conference.
The President started his conversation with a short opening speech. The first question that he answered was a question from Vladivostok about his impressions of the outgoing year.
"There are pluses and minuses, as always in life. Of course, this year is all about the problem that is on everyone's lips and before our eyes, that worries all of us. This is the coronavirus pandemic," Putin said responding to the question.
"Yet, with all the huge number of problems around, and there is a sea of problems indeed, Russia looks dignified against the background of other countries," Putin noted.
The drop in GDP is only 3.6 percent, which is less than in all leading European countries and the United States. The industrial production shrank by three percent, mainly due to oil production. Agriculture may show the growth of up to two percent. The banking sector is in a satisfactory condition.
According to Putin, the fall in real disposable income of the population by the end of 2020 will be about three percent. The unemployment rate in Russia has increased to 6.3 percent, he admitted.
"But everything that we do to support the economy is about maintaining jobs. And we hope that we will reach the performance we had in the past," the president stressed.
He also said that the national debt fell by $10 billion, while the National Welfare Fund increased and amounted to 13.5 trillion rubles.
"As much as 70 percent of the Russian budget does not depend on oil and gas anymore. That is, the country is getting rid of oil and gas dependence. We are no longer a gas station," Putin said.
The president was asked about the vaccine and mass vaccination.
"I believe that mass vaccination is needed," the president saids. However, he admitted that he had not been vaccinated yet. Putin explained that he would do it later.
"I urge everyone to be attentive to the recommendations of specialists. Now vaccination is being conducted for certain age categories. The vaccine has not reached the people like me. I am a law-abiding person, I have not been vaccinated yet. I will definitely do it when it becomes possible," the president said.
Russian rock singer Sergei Shnurov, the leader of Leningrad rock band, who recently became the general producer of RTVi holding, asked Putin about Russian hackers and assistance to US President Donald Trump. Shnurov asked Putin why Russian hackers failed to help Trump in this year's election and whether Trump may count on some job in Russia.
"As for the question about hackers, I believe that this is not a question, but a provocation. Russian hackers did not help Trump, this is just an excuse not to recognize the legitimacy of the US president, this is a reason to ruin relations between the two countries," the president said.
Russian hackers neither interfered in the elections nor helped Trump, Putin said. According to him, all accusations against Russia are groundless. The relations between Russia and the United States have become hostages of domestic politics.
"We conclude that the newly elected president will work to solve all the problems that have arisen. He is an experienced person." Trump does not need help, Putin added. Many people voted for him in the US, and Trump is going to stay in the political scene, he said.
When asked about the investigation into the poisoning of Russian opposition activist Alexei Navalny and the investigation into Putin's former son-in-law Kirill Shamalov, the president said that such bogus stories have always taken place and will always take place.
"I looked through the investigation (by Project publication), because it concerns me, but everything is so piled up there that I didn't finish reading it. First of all, it says that it was my former son-in-law, but people are led to believe that he is my current son-in-law. Secondly, elites are not prohibited from owning property abroad, it is only civil servants, for whom it is prohibited - and rightly so. And there is a private company involved. As for the shares - there were incentive programs for top management, and that's how Shamalov received those shares," Putin explained.
"Most importantly, Shnurov just talked about hackers here. In that story, an unknown anonymous person gave the information to someone and it is not clear why. And then "the ears of the anonymous person" surface, because he writes about the hackers associated with the GRU. The US State Department and US special serves are the authors, it was done on their instructions. The purpose of the publication is revenge. It was an attempt to influence our internal political life," Putin said.
"I would like to urge the leadership of those who order materials of this kind to be guided not by considerations of revenge and their imaginary exclusivity - one needs to respect your partners," he said.
As for Navalny, whose name Putin diligently tried not to pronounce, the president wondered: "Who needs the "Berlin patient" to poison him?" He answered it immediately by saying that this "patient" enjoys the support of foreign special services. Navalny's investigation into how he was allegedly poisoned by FSB officers was part of the mission to "legalize the materials from American special services."
"I have spoken about this more than once. Peskov just told me yesterday about the latest fabrications on this topic regarding the data from our special services. We understand what it is, this is the legalization of information from American special services. We know they are tracking geolocation, and the FSB knows that too, so they use phones only when they can. The patient at the Berlin clinic has the support from American intelligence services. This means that our special services must keep an eye on him. Yet, this does not mean that one needs to poison him. This is ridiculous. Who needs him? If they wanted to, they would have done the thing properly. When his wife asked, I let him out at once," Putin said.
"This is a trick to attack top officials and make it look like I am the person of the same caliber. This is a political struggle trick. It is not these tricks that one should resort to to win people's recognition and respect. One needs certain deeds and a specific, realistic program for the country. I urge all opponents of the current administration to be guided by interests of citizens, rather than personal ambitions," the president said at the annual press conference.