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Putin is defiant and buoyant during marathon call-in and news conference

The event came days after the Russian president announced he will run for president again in an election next year.

This event has ended. Here are the highlights:

MOSCOW — There will be no peace in Ukraine until the Kremlin realizes its goals, including the "de-Nazification" and demilitarization of its western neighbor, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Thursday after nearly two years of fighting.

Speaking at a marathon four-hour news conference, Putin appeared buoyant and defiant as he offered rare insights into what Moscow calls its “special military operation.”

Dismissing the need for another mobilization of reservists to fight in Ukraine, he said 617,000 service members were currently on the ground in Ukraine. It is the first time he or any member of his government has offered a number for how many soldiers the Kremlin has sent into Ukraine.

“There will be peace when we will achieve our goals,” Putin said, including the de-Nazification of Ukraine. Putin and his government falsely claim Ukraine is run by “Nazis” and have used it as a justification for the war.

Putin fielded questions from across Russia’s 11 time zones in a Q&A at the Gostinyy Dvor center in central Moscow, the first time he has done so since invading Ukraine in February 2022. He skipped both events last year.

This year the military featured prominently in his remarks, and there were questions from soldiers phoning in from the front lines and from Russia’s war correspondents. 

Putin also called the destruction of Gaza a “catastrophe” and suggested that Russia and China are enjoying an “unprecedented” level of cooperation, with trade reaching more than $200 billion this year. He also said the Russian economy was strong despite Western sanctions imposed after the invasion of Ukraine.

Putin said that Russia was looking to negotiate with the U.S. about detained Wall Street Journal correspondent Evan Gershkovich and Paul Whelan, a businessman and former Marine imprisoned in Russia on suspicion of spying. Contacts have been made to discuss securing their freedom, he said.

His comments came shortly after Gershkovich’s pretrial detention on espionage charges was extended until Jan. 30 by a Russian court, according to the state news agency Tass.

There were also some lighter moments. At one point, Putin was asked by a student from St. Petersburg about his concerns over artificial intelligence and if he had any body doubles.

Putin would tell his younger self to stay the course and be less gullible

The last question addressed to Vladimir Putin was about advice to his younger self before his early days in politics and what he would caution himself about, if he had a chance.

“I would have said, ‘You are on the right path, comrade,’” he said. “And I would have warned myself about naivety and putting excessive trust in our so-called partners.”

Putin has often suggested that the West let Russia down after the collapse of the Soviet Union, while trying to enforce a world order in which his country was no longer a global power.

Previously he has said that this helped to precipitate the confrontation in Ukraine.

U.S. likely behind Nord Stream pipeline explosions, Putin says

Putin blamed the United States for last year's explosions that blew up the Nord Stream pipelines carrying Russian gas into Europe.

“We didn’t blow up Nord Stream 1 and partly Nord Stream 2,” he said. “It was most likely the Americans who did it, or someone did it at their instigation.”

The explosions in the Baltic Sea caused major leaks and prompted accusations of sabotage, although there has been little clarity from ongoing investigations into what happened.

The blasts strained Russia's already fraught relations with the European Union, which condemned the invasion of Ukraine.

Media reports in March cited intelligence suggesting that a pro-Ukrainian group or pro-Ukraine saboteurs carried out the attack. Ukraine has denied any involvement.

A subtle jab at the length of his leadership

NBC News

It was a subtle jab which Putin either missed or chose not to acknowledge.

On a large TV screen behind the audience, some of the more than 2 million questions appeared during the mammoth question-and-answer session, including one which mentioned the length of his leadership.

“In 2004 you said — ‘If you remain president for 7 years, you can go crazy.’” it said. “You have been in power for 23 years. How is your health?”

Putin announced his candidacy in next year's presidential election earlier this month, a move that could prolong his repressive and unyielding grip on Russia for at least another six years.

Questions from the general public are posed to Russia President Vladimir Putin via big screen during his televised appearance on Dec. 14, 2023.
Questions from the general public are posed to Putin via a big screen during his televised appearance today.Kremlin Live

An uncomfortable moment as Putin questioned about strikes on Russian soil

Keir Simmons

Keir Simmons and Yuliya Talmazan

MOSCOW — For once, Putin looked uncomfortable when asked about the shelling of Russian regions on the border with Ukraine and whether the government was doing enough to support people there.

“Shelling has become their daily routine,” a reporter at the state broadcaster RIA Novosti asked.

But Putin deftly avoided the question and instead focused on a follow-up video question from an entrepreneur in the border region of Belgorod to say that he will consider ramping up economic assistance for people there.

Belgorod and the neighboring region of Kursk have borne the brunt of the shelling which Russia blames on Ukraine. A number of people have been killed and injured in the strikes, for which Kyiv has never claimed responsibility.

A lone critic hopes to challenge Putin's power


Keir Simmons

Matthew Bodner

Keir Simmons, Matthew Bodner and Yuliya Talmazan
Russian opposition candidate Boris Nadezhdin
Russian opposition candidate Boris Nadezhdin in Moscow earlier this week.NBC News

MOSCOW — Boris Nadezhdin has promised to take on Putin in the presidential election to be held in March. It’s a risky act in a country where many critics have ended up jailed, exiled or dead.

“It is a very strange election because there is no real choice,” the veteran politician and commentator said. He understands the risks but he still wants to run, he told NBC News, to call out the president for undermining Russian democratic institutions, and air criticism of the war in Ukraine and Putin’s efforts at steering the country to greater authoritarianism.

“I am ready for everything,” he added. 

Nadezhdin is one of only two people who have so far expressed willingness to square up against a leader expected to win by a wide margin. Russian elections are often mired in irregularities and claims of fraud. It is extremely difficult for challengers to get their names onto a ballot at any level. Critics say Russia’s elections are mostly just for show.

Read the full story here.

A funny moment as Putin was quizzed about AI and body doubles

NBC News

At one point, Putin was asked by a student from St. Petersburg about his concerns over artificial intelligence and if he had any body doubles.

The questioner appeared to have an AI version of the president ask the question.

Russia's level of cooperation with China 'unprecedented'

Russia and China are enjoying an "unprecedented" level of cooperation, with trade reaching more than $200 billion this year, according to Putin.

Despite disapproval from the West, the relationship between China and Russia is one of the “guarantees of stability in the world,” he said.

China Xi Jinping Russia Vladimir Putin state visit
Putin with Xi Jinping at the Kremlin in March.Grigory Sysoyev / AFP - Getty Images

Russia and China are not formal allies, but Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping, who refer to each other as “dear friends,” declared a “no limits” partnership at a meeting in Beijing weeks before Russia’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine.

China has refused to condemn Russia’s actions in Ukraine or even describe them as an invasion, and has repeated Russian talking points defending the war. But it has also expressed concern about the humanitarian situation and called for peace talks, presenting its own 12-point plan earlier this year and sending a representative to Ukraine and Russia last month in an effort to mediate.

Russia in 'dialogue' with U.S. over jailed reporter Evan Gershkovich

Russia is looking to negotiate with the U.S. about detained Wall Street Journal correspondent Evan Gershkovich, Putin said today, adding that contacts had been made to discuss securing his freedom.

His comments came shortly after Gershkovich’s pretrial detention on espionage charges was extended until Jan. 30 by a Russian court, according to the state news agency Tass.

Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gerhskovich, arrested in Russia on espionage charges, will remain in detention until Jan. 30, a court in Moscow ruled on Thursday. The hearing took place behind closed doors because authorities say details of the criminal case against the American journalist are classified.
Evan Gershkovich at a court appearance in Moscow today.Dmitry Serebryakov / AP

Gershkovich has been in Russian custody since March. Both he and the Journal deny all charges against him. The U.S. considers Gershkovich wrongfully detained.

Putin said Russia had “contacts" with American partners about the case. “There is a dialogue going on about this. It’s not simple. I am not going to go into details. But I think we are generally speaking a language we can understand,” he added.

Putin watched around Russia

Max Butterworth

Members of the Ural Women’s Guard movement watch a televised broadcast of Putin’s annual question and answer session in the Russian region of Yekaterinburg today.

Russia Putin Press Conference Broadcast
Pavel Lisitsyn / Sputnik via AP

Analysis: Q&A may be choreographed but it still offers insight into Putin's thinking

Keir Simmons

MOSCOW — This is a choreographed question and answer session in which only participants allowed by the Kremlin are included, among them a small number of journalists from major Western news organizations, including NBC News.

But it is nonetheless offering up some insight into Putin's thinking.

Russian President Vladimir Putin holding his year-end press conference at Gostiny Dvor exhibition hall in central Moscow on Dec. 14, 2023.
Mikhail Klimentyev / AFP - Getty Images

In a video message, a doctor from a hospital in the Russian-occupied Ukrainian city of Melitopol says there are “double” the patients than there should be for the number of medics.

Another shows a group of children in Russian-occupied Crimea standing in a sports hall with fungus on the walls and a leaking roof. “We have to train outside,” they say.

Putin said he was glad to hear those contributors describe those parts of Ukraine as Russia, but it does spotlight that Russia is not finding it easy to provide civilians with adequate support. 

More than 600,000 troops are fighting in Ukraine

Keir Simmons

MOSCOW — More than 600,000 Russian troops are fighting in Ukraine, Putin told the news conference.

In a rare assessment of the number of forces engaged in the war, he said 617,000 service members were currently involved in what he calls the special military operation in Ukraine.

Putin and Kremlin officials have always referred to the war in Ukraine as a special military operation.

Neither Russia nor Ukraine release casualty numbers.

Russian athletes 'should go to Paris Olympics'

Russian athletes should go to the Paris Olympics next year after the International Olympic Committee said they could compete under "neutral status" last week. Neutral status allows athletes to compete in the games without their national identity or flag.

Russia has opposed any restrictions on its athletes saying they are discriminatory. But Ukraine and its Western allies have urged the IOC to completely ban all Russian and Belarusian athletes from next year's games in the French capital.

Russia has positioned troops and military hardware in Belarus, which sits to the north of Ukraine, and used the territory for its invasion.

Putin said today the IOC conditions on neutral status should be scrutinized more closely to ensure they do not stifle Russian medal hopefuls. Everyone will know that the neutral athletes are from Russia, even if they compete without a Russian flag or anthem, he added.

Athletes from Russia and Belarus were banned from international competitions in the aftermath of the invasion, and Ukraine has threatened to boycott the Paris Olympics if they are allowed back in.

Putin calls the war in Gaza a 'catastrophe'

The destruction in Gaza is a "catastrophe," Putin said, as he compared it to the war in Ukraine.

“Look at the special military operation and what is happening in Gaza and feel the difference. There is nothing like this in Ukraine,” he said. Putin and Kremlin officials have always referred to the war in Ukraine as a special military operation, rather than a war.

Putin also criticized the number of civilian casualties in Gaza and called for an increase in humanitarian aid into the enclave.

By contrast, the Russian leader has not commented on the thousands of civilian deaths in Ukraine. Throughout the war, the Kremlin has insisted it does not target civilian infrastructure while launching near daily missile and drone attacks on Ukrainian cities.

Buoyant and confident, Putin shows no signs of backing down on goals

Keir Simmons

MOSCOW — Putin appeared to have a newfound confidence as he addresses the crowd at the Gostinyy Dvor center in Moscow.

Putin Press Conference Moscow
Alexander Zemlianichenko / AFP - Getty Images

Appearing buoyant and defiant, he showed no sign of backing down on his long-stated goals, like the demilitarization of Ukraine.

While Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov is moderating the questions, Putin is quickly taking over from his longtime colleague and deciding whom he will take questions from.

Russian troops are improving positions across the Ukrainian frontline

Russian troops are improving their positions along the entire front line in Ukraine, Putin said.

Asked about Ukrainian attempts to secure a foothold on the left bank of the Dnipro River in the southern Kherson region, he said this was Kyiv's "last attempt" to bring its counteroffensive back to life.

Russia has occupied that side of the waterway since the start of the war and a much-vaunted Ukrainian counteroffensive has little to show for it despite months of planning and billions in allied military support.

"I think this is silly and irresponsible from the leadership of the country. But it’s their business," Putin said.

Russia is ready to build relations with the U.S.

Russia is ready to build relations with the U.S., Putin said when asked about the possibility of normalization of contact with the West almost two years after the invasion of Ukraine.

Image: President Joe Biden meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Wednesday, June 16, 2021, in Geneva, Switzerland.
Biden and Putin in Geneva, in 2021.Patrick Semansky / AP file

Putin called the U.S. an “important and necessary country” in the world, but said its “imperialism politics” gets in the way of relations with Moscow.

Almost half a million contractors have been hired for the Ukraine war, Putin says

Asked if there will be another wave of mobilization in Russia, Putin said it was not necessary because around 486,000 contractors have been hired to fight on the front lines this year.

“The flow of those who want to defend their homeland with weapons in their hands does not stop," he said, adding that 1,500 people are recruited a day.

"So why do we need mobilization? As of today, there is no need for that," Putin added.

Russia launched a partial mobilization last year, an unpopular move that prompted an outcry across the country and a mass exodus of military-age men from Russia, something Putin called a “sensitive question.”

Audience listens intently as Putin speaks

Max Butterworth

As he spoke at his year-end press conference, the audience listened intently to the Russian leader.

Putin News Conference Moscow
Alexander Zemlianichenko / AP
Putin TV Press Conference Moscow
Alexander Zemlianichenko / AFP - Getty Images

Peace in Ukraine will come when Russia reaches its objectives, Putin says

Peace in Ukraine will come when Russia reaches its objectives, including de-Nazification and demilitarization of Ukraine, Putin said today.

Kyiv is currently "getting everything for free," he said, referring to military aid supplied by Ukraine's Western allies. He added that the conflict could end "and it looks like it’s ending."

Putin and his government have regularly peddled accusations of Nazi elements within Ukraine to justify the attack on his western neighbor, a move that experts have disputed.

His comments came as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has been pleading with the U.S. and other allies to give his country more aid and military hardware.

Putin kicks off with the economy

Putin launched straight into the numbers relating to Russia's economy, which he said was not only recovering, but also making leaps forward after it was hit hard by Western sanctions in the wake of the Ukraine invasion.

Putin End Of Year Address
Putin said the gross domestic product was expected to grow by 3.5% by year's end.Russia 24

Calling it a "good indicator," he said the gross domestic product, GDP, was expected to grow by 3.5% by year's end.

Russia's economy was heavily sanctioned by Western countries after the invasion of Ukraine in an attempt to isolate Moscow and block financing for the war.

But Putin said it "recovered from the fall," after it rebuilt economic systems that skirted Western sanctions.

Reporters from 'nonfriendly' countries among the attendees, state TV says

Around 600 people are in the audience at the conference at the Gostinyy Dvor event in central Moscow, state TV channel Russia 24 reported as Putin entered.

Reporters from "nonfriendly" countries are also present, the channel said, referring to foreign media outlets from nations that oppose Russia's invasion of Ukraine, including the U.S.

Ahead of the event, media representatives were invited to take their temperature and pass through "a special disinfecting frame with silver ions," the Russian state news agency Tass said, adding that this was to minimize any viral infection spread.

Holding a yellow folder, Putin strides into the event

Holding a yellow folder, Putin strode confidently into the event on time and apparently raring to go.

Moderators said they were ready with thousands of questions, including some on what Russia calls its special military operation in Ukraine.

State TV counts down to Putin's news conference

NBC News

State TV channel Russia 24, which is broadcasting the press conference live, is calling it the “most important event of the year.”

Russia 24 Putin Countdown Timer
State broadcaster Russia 24 displays a countdown timer ahead of Putin's appearance in front of a live televised audience.Russia 24

Putin takes questions from the public and journalists at his end-of-year news conference

Russian President Vladimir Putin is holding his end-of-year news conference today for the first time since he ordered his country's forces to invade Ukraine.

This year, ordinary citizens will also have a chance to call in with their questions. Journalists — some of whom lined up for hours in freezing temperatures to get into the Moscow event — will also get to put their queries to the Russian leader.

Putin has heavily limited his interaction with the foreign media since fighting began in Ukraine in February 2022, but international journalists were invited this year.

Last year, he did not hold his usual call-in show with ordinary Russians or his traditional session with reporters as the fighting in Ukraine raged. His annual state-of-the-nation address was also delayed by a year until February.