On December 23, Russian President Vladimir Putin held his 17th (consecutively) annual Q&A conference with Russian and international journalists. In 2021, due to the coronavirus pandemic, a little more than 500 journalists were allowed for the conference with Putin, which is half as much as usual. The event was at Moscow's Manezh Exhibition Hall near the Kremlin. The journalists asked Putin about vaccinations and herd immunity in Russia, about the state of affairs in economy, and the main challenges that Russia is facing today.
Below are a few quotes from the conference.
"This struggle continues. We are aware of the dangers that the omicron variant causes as it spreads. A group of our scientists and specialists is currently visiting the Republic of South Africa, where, in fact, this strain was discovered. They work there, and they work successfully.
"The herd immunity in Russia amounts to 59.4 percent (…) This is not enough. We need herd immunity somewhere at around 80 percent. I hope that next year, at least at the end of the first quarter, or in the second quarter of the year, we will reach this level. In some countries, they already talk about the need to achieve herd immunity at 90-95 percent."
"There is an increase in mortality in our country. And in this regard, one of the most important problems, one of the most important tasks that we face, which is in the field of demography, exacerbates both from the humanitarian and geopolitical point of view. The population of 146 million is absolutely not enough for such a huge territory.
"The Russian economy has declined by three percent, which was much lower than in many of leading countries of the world. We have recovered much faster than other countries too."
"There are army bases all around us — in the east, in the south, in the north, new weapons systems are also being deployed, including at sea, let alone in the west. Yet, to encircle such a large territory as ours is a difficult task to pursue."
"Russia cannot be defeated. It can only be disintegrated from the inside. That had been done successfully as a result of WWI and then in the 1990s, when the Soviet Union collapsed. Who had done that? It was the people who had been serving someone else's interests — the interests that had nothing to do with the interests of the peoples of the Russian Empire, the Soviet Union and the Russian Federation."
Until 2014, we could negotiate everything with the Ukrainian authorities. We used to work together and we were ready to continue working. It had never occurred to us to do anything about the Crimea. In 2014, a bloody coup took place, when people would be killed and burned. In Odessa, people were burned alive in the House of Trade Unions. Did anyone move a finger to find the perpetrators? Absolutely not."
"Russia is not angry, Russia is concentrating."
"They keep talking about war, but it could be Ukraine that is preparing a third military operation, and they do not want us to interfere. This is the first variant. Secondly, they could be making anti-Russia out of Ukraine, so that they could push radicals towards committing crime against Russia, including in the Donbas and in the Crimea. How should Russia live with all that? Should we look back all the time? This is a serious issue!"
"War is not our choice. We do not want war, and that was the reason why I asked President Biden to appoint representatives and hold consultations on security. We put that straight — NATO should not expand further to the east."
"Who created Ukraine? Lenin did, when he was creating the Soviet Union. The treaty from 1922, and the treaty from 1924, the year of the Constitution, was made up on the basis of his principles, albeit after his death."
Noteworthy, after 2014, Ukraine started demolishing monuments to Lenin.
"There are political prisoners in every country. They have always been and will always be. One should not commit criminal offense and hide behind political activities."
"I agree, there is little good here, but it was not Russia that coined this law. This law was coined in the United States, which many see as the beacon of democracy, back in the 1930s. We do not prohibit the work of such organizations. We only want organizations engaged in internal political activities in Russia to declare their sources of funding."
"We were put in a situation in which we could not act otherwise. We had to act — and this is how the crisis emerged in 2014."
"Gazprom supplies the entire volume that our counterparties ask for under existing contracts. It also increased the supplies by 20 percent. This is the only company, the only country that acts like this. For example, American suppliers removed liquefied gas from the European market and redirected it to premium markets of China and other countries, because they pay more there."
"With regard to torture and, in general, cruel mistreatment of people in places of detention. Unfortunately, this is a problem that does not relate to Russia alone. This is a worldwide problem."
"When assessing this situation, one needs to rely on the findings of the investigation. Seventeen criminal cases have been initiated. And they are being investigated. About a dozen officials have been dismissed."
"Yes, there is a problem. We need to work with it calmly, relying on conscientious investigation of these crimes — and these are crimes — that have been committed."
"The future of Donbass should be determined by the people who live in Donbass. Russia is a mediator, and they want to make us a party to the conflict. This is not part of the Minsk Accords, and we did not agree to that."
"The Minsk Accords actually envisage the autonomy of the Donbass. It is necessary to amend the constitution of Ukraine, hold elections, hold an amnesty, but Kiev is not doing any of that."
"I did everything to solve these crimes. (…) A number of people have been jailed for the committed crimes. Some believe that they are not the ones who ordered the assassinations, that the ones who ordered them have escaped, but the investigation is not aware of this. We have done everything to expose those responsible for those crimes. In general, this settling of scores causes nothing but harm to our country.”
"I am of the belief that a woman is a woman, a man is a man, a mother is a mother, and a father is a father."
"I hope that our society has inner moral protection dictated by religious confessions."
"We have to be progressive and take everything that helps us develop, be on the march. (…) But I hope that our peoples, the peoples of Russia, have enough internal, visceral, immune systems to protect themselves from this, as I said, bigotry. One should not fight this by shouting — one should support our traditional values."
"This decision [the decision of the United States and a number of other countries of the West to boycott the upcoming Olympic Games] is unacceptable and erroneous. I spoke a long time ago about with one of the former US presidents — guess which one — and he told me: boycotts of the Olympics were a big mistake, including on the part of the United States, but the United States continues going down that road again."
"This is an attempt to restrain the development of the People's Republic of China, there is no other reason. Sport must unite, and when sport is deprived of this core value, the entire human community is damaged. But there is nothing to do about it — everyone makes mistakes, however, not everyone makes them again and again. The reason is the same — to restrain development, to prevent competitors from raising their heads."
At the request of Ukraine, Turkey detained a Russian-flagged cargo ship as it was carrying grain from the port of Berdyansk. The problem will exacerbate when Recep Erdogan leaves politics.