Putin wraps up 2015: Three hours of questions, 1,400 journalists & one star of the show

December 19, 2015 in News by D


Bryan MacDonald is a journalist. He began his career in journalism aged 15 in his home town of Carlow, Ireland, with the Nationalist & Leinster Times, while still a schoolboy. Later he studied journalism in Dublin and worked for the Weekender in Navan before joining the Irish Independent. Following a period in London, he joined Ireland On Sunday, later re-named the Irish Mail on Sunday. He was theater critic of the Daily Mail for a period and also worked in news, features and was a regular op-ed writer. He has also frequently appeared on RTE and Newstalk in Ireland as well as RT.
December 17, 2015. Russian President Vladimir Putin at his 11th annual media question-and-answer session in the World Trade Center on Krasnaya Presnya. © Natalia Seliverstova
The 2015 installment of Vladimir Putin’s now-traditional end-of-year Q&A lacked some of the sparkle of previous years. However, the Russian President captivated his audience for over three hours and addressed a host of serious issues.

Throughout human history, leaders have devised countless methods of communicating with those they lead. The ancient Romans boasted the Forum, a rectangular plaza which hosted elections and political speeches. Later, Popes used the Papal Bull to send orders to faraway places. Meanwhile, Victorian British administrators, with literacy rising sharply, used newspapers to interact with the public.

In Russia, distance has always made Moscow seem remote to residents of regional cities. While British or French politicians can move from town to town with relative ease, it’s far harder for Russians. Moscow to Vladivostok is a 9,157 kilometer drive for anyone crazy enough to attempt it. By contrast, London to Inverness is a mere 914 kilometer spin and Paris-Nice a manageable 932 kilometers.

Thus, for hundreds of years, Russia’s rulers were more concerned with keeping order in the vast country than engaging with the general public. The idea of Josef Stalin, Leonid Brezhnev or Tsar Nicholas II explaining their actions in Town Hall meetings or later utilizing live TV is completely laughable. Even in the 90’s, advisors to Boris Yeltsin, Russia’s first democratic President, never countenanced anything like it. The potential fall-out from Yeltsin, a bottle of vodka and millions of TV viewers is too appalling to countenance.

Hence, while West European countries are used to intense debates where leaders are grilled mercilessly, Russians are not. In fact, in the UK, via broadcasters like Jeremy Paxman and John Snow, political interviews have turned into a sort of blood sport. So, in Russia, the fact that Putin is willing to face more than three hours of annual questioning from various journalists is a major novelty.

The Putin show

Western media often likes to criticize Putin’s Q&A as a “stage-managed publicity stunt.” If it were so tightly controlled as they allege, why would questions be allowed about his family and alleged corruption among relatives of the Moscow elite? Also, does anybody seriously believe that Barack Obama, to name one Western leader, would survive three hours of unscripted questions without a teleprompter? Whatever you might think of him, there is no doubt that Putin’s grasp of his brief is quite remarkable.

Putin’s Q&A has elements of a carnival and pure showbiz. Over 1,400 media professionals from all over Russia and the world straining to get the President’s attention. Some flatter him, like the regional reporter who complimented Putin on his physique. “The thing is, as a woman I can’t help but compliment our president on the fact you are in such good sporty condition,” she raved. “Thank you so much for this, because our young men take your example, it’s true! And so many more young people now play sports,” she added.

Others took a decidedly aggressive tone. Ekaterina Vinokurova from the Znak news website asked about allegations of corruption involving the sons of Chief Prosecutor Yuri Chaika. Another interrogated Putin on American media reports concerning his daughters. “I also read that my daughters were studying abroad. I’m proud of them. And they never left Russia. They got their education here. They are neither into business nor politics,” he shot back.

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