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Vladimir Putin's Annual Call-In Show: Russians Submit 3M Questions

by Alexey Eremenko and F. Brinley Bruton /  / Updated 

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MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin fielded some of the 3 million questions submitted by ordinary citizens during a highly choreographed annual call-in show Thursday.

Here's some of what he had to say in response to the queries, which came via text, email, online video, telephone, and from a small studio audience. (Russia has a population of around 143 million.)

Other world leaders

Putin made a barbed comment about Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Ukraine’s Petro Poroshenko. He's clashed with both in the past.

Russian President Vladimir Putin talks to journalists as he arrives for Thursday's call-in show.Michael Klimentyev / Reuters

A 12-year-old girl asked: "If Poroshenko and Erdogan were both sinking, whom would you save first?"

"You're putting me in a complicated situation," Putin responded. "I guess it's this way: If someone decides to drown, it's impossible to save them. But we're, of course, ready to extend a helping hand, a hand of friendship to any of our partners if they're ready for that."

Obama

When NBC News asked about his thoughts on President Barack Obama's looming departure from the White House, Putin said: "We all leave sometime. It is pointless to regret, you need to continue working."

He added: "I must say [of] that the U.S. president — you can give different assessment, it's up to the American citizens to assess, but he's working, working hard ... And I'm sure it will continue until the last moment of staying on the job — he is very responsible."

Putin vowed to "work with a new president when one comes."

'Panama Papers'

When asked about foreign "slander” concerning allegations that people close to him had stashed funds in offshore accounts, Putin blamed "employees of American official bodies were involved."

"Who was the first to report it? Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper, which is part of an American holding, Goldman Sachs," he said, referring to the Panama Papers, a cache of records leaked from law firm Mossack Fonseca that shone shine a light on the network of law firms and big banks that offer financial secrecy and investments in low-tax regimes.

"They'll continue doing this as we're nearing our [Russian] elections," said Putin, who was not named in the documents.

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A key figure mentioned in the papers is Sergei Roldugin, a wealthy cellist who is godfather to Putin's eldest daughter, according to the Financial Times.

U.S. political system

When asked why there weren’t more political parties in Russia, Putin, who leads the overwhelmingly dominant United Russia party, sidestepped the question and instead took a swipe at the American political system.

"Take the States. First, Bush Sr. had the power, then Bush Jr. — the family in any case," he said. "[Bill] Clinton served two terms, now his wife is a contender — the family may get to stay in power again."

Using a Russian idiom, Putin added: “As we say, husband and wife are the same devil."

Syria

He also defended the decision in March to withdraw Russian troops from Syria after being asked whether the move wouldn’t allow ISIS to expand again, “like a hydra.”

“This danger always exists if due attention is not spared to the fight against terrorism,” Putin said. “Our main hope is that it's the political process, not the military action on all sides ... that will lead to peace. Everyone needs to get to the negotiation table, pass a new constitution and hold elections.”

Personal life

The famously private president, whose ex-wife Lyudmila has remarried, sidestepped a question about when he would introduce a "new first lady" to the Russian public.

"I'm ... doing fine and happy with my life. I don't know if we should put these kind of questions in the spotlight — wouldn't it affect the currency rate or the oil prices?" Putin joked.

"And seriously, people are elected to the State Duma, to other posts, so that they work," he said. "I'm used to the fact that the topic you mentioned is of much interest … and maybe one day I will be able to satisfy your curiosity."

Trump or Clinton

Putin touched on the U.S. election when asked who was "worse" for Russia, Republican and Democratic frontrunners Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton.

"It is not about particular people," he said. "You need to act not from a position of force, of dictating things, but with respect without it's impossible to build relations with Russia and other nations."

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