Pussy Riot to spy envy: seven views from the mouth of Putin

Russian president Vladimir Putin tackles the big topics at his annual marathon press conference

LAST UPDATED AT 16:27 ON Thu 19 Dec 2013

RUSSIAN president Vladimir Putin has given his annual marathon press conference, revealing his thoughts on a huge range of subjects from Pussy Riot to Edward Snowden. 

The president joked with reporters who turned up in their hundreds, many using teddy bears, flags and paper signs to attract his attention. One journalist even presented him with a stuffed yeti toy, while another was said to have "gushed over him" when he congratulated her on her recent marriage.

With so much pandering to the president, several international commentators noted that high-level corruption and the persecution of gay people was off the agenda for the four-hour question and answer session. But Putin did not hold back on several other topics...

Edward Snowden

Putin praised the resolve of Edward Snowden, the NSA whistleblower who has found asylum in Russia. The president said he had not met him and that the Russian government was not working with him in any way, but added: "I won't hide it, this person is not without interest for me. I think that thanks to Snowden, a lot changed in the minds of millions of people, including in the minds of major political leaders." Despite criticism of the US surveillance programme, Putin said he understood that it was necessary and even half-joked that he envies US president Barack Obama because he can spy and "get away with it".

Pussy Riot

Putin said he feels "pity" for the three members of Pussy Riot who were jailed over a profanity-laced protest against him in a Russian Orthodox Church last year. It is believed the two members who remain in prison could be freed under an amnesty bill passed by Russia's parliament yesterday. However, the president said his pity was not because they were in prison, but because they "started to engage in activities which are humiliating for women".

The Arctic 30

The president also spoke about the 30 crew members of the Greenpeace ship the Arctic Sunrise who were arrested earlier this year. They too look likely to be released under the new law. Putin described their actions as "pure PR" and suggested they were acting for their own personal enrichment under the guise of environmentalism. He said he hoped their experience in Russia "taught them a lesson" and that they would work with Russian government "more constructively in future".

International relations

This year Putin largely avoided the veiled attacks on the West that he has made in past press conferences. He even praised the international efforts to end the conflict in Syria and to tackle Iran's nuclear dispute. "Without our joint work with the Americans, Europeans and our Chinese friends, it would have been impossible to achieve these results," he said. "We did not shift position, we did not, as they, say do any zig-zagging." However, he raised a few eyebrows among the British journalists when he said "Oliver Cromwell is just as much of a bloody dictator as Stalin".

Ukraine

Putin denied putting any pressure on Ukraine not to sign an association pact with the European Union – a move that has sparked mass street protests in Kiev. He insisted that Russia's $15bn bailout of the economically struggling country was driven by a desire to help a partner in need. However, he added that if Kiev does sign the EU deal then Russia will not give them any more benefits.

Alexei Navalny

Putin repeatedly avoided saying the name of the opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who is facing money laundering charges, simply alluding to him as a "candidate". Then he appeared to question the size of Navalny's manhood. While talking about getting into politics he said: "You can lose your trousers. It's good if you have something to show, and if you have nothing..." before trailing off. When asked who was the second most important politician in Russia, he spoke of Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov but only briefly mentioned Dmitry Medvedev, the former president and current prime minister.

Mikhail Khodorkovsky

One of the most interesting announcements Putin made today came just after the marathon press conference had concluded. The president suggested that jailed oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky was to be pardoned "in the nearest time". Khodorkovsky still has eight months left to serve of a ten-year jail sentence but Putin said that, because his mother was ill, he should be pardoned. Supporters say Khodorkovsky was jailed to curb a political challenge to Putin and bring his oil assets under state control. His release is thought to be part of Putin's efforts to appease international critics of Russia's rights record ahead of next year's Winter Olympics in Sochi. · 

For further concise, balanced comment and analysis on the week's news, try The Week magazine. Subscribe today and get 6 issues completely free.