'Why Do You Have This Spy Hysteria?' Putin Asks At Annual News Conference

Dec 14, 2017
Originally published on December 14, 2017 10:19 am

Russian President Vladimir Putin held his annual news conference on Thursday, an event that commonly runs for hours, offering a kaleidoscope-like glimpse of Putin's view of his country and the world. In this year's edition, the topics ranged from President Trump to Russia's ban at the 2018 Winter Olympics — and the state of the fishing industry in Murmansk.

"There are things Trump wanted to do but couldn't yet, like reforming healthcare ... or improving relations [with] Russia," NPR's Lucian Kim reports Putin as saying at the Kremlin. "It's clear that even if he wanted to, he couldn't."

The news conference sometimes brings unexpected imagery to bear — and that held true at this year's event. In response to a question about wealth inequality and market competition, Putin said, "The government should not look like a bearded man who's trying to pluck cabbage out of his beard in a lazy way, looking at how the government is transforming into a dark puddle where oligarchs catch their golden fish."

ABC News chief foreign correspondent Terry Moran asked Putin a two-part question during the news conference, about "a very large number of contacts between Russian citizens associated with your government and high officials of the Trump campaign."

"All of this is not normal," Moran said, noting that several people with ties to the Trump campaign or administration are now facing charges. He asked Putin to explain the "sheer number of contacts" to the American people.

"You praised Donald Trump during the campaign. What is your appraisal of Donald Trump as president, after one year?" Moran asked in English, adding, "Spasiba," or "thank you."

Putin replied, "It's not up to me to assess what Trump has been doing. It's up to those who have elected him, it's up to the American people."

The Russian president's remarks were translated into English on a live video feed from the Kremlin, He went on to say, "There have been some major achievements" in Trump's first year, including gains by the U.S. stock market.

Putin then spoke about ways the countries could work together — and he wound up his remarks by saying, "Well, that's pretty much it" — prompting Moran, without the aid of a microphone, to stand and repeat the first part of his question about allegations of collusion.

"That's been invented by those who are in the opposition, people who oppose President Trump, to delegitimize his time in office," Putin said. "It really seems strange to me, because it seems that they don't understand. They undermine their own nation. They limit the powers of the president who's been elected. It means that they don't have respect for those people, those Americans who elected Donald Trump."

Putin said that in political campaigns worldwide, Russian diplomats and other government officials meet with candidates and their campaigns to talk about issues and potential plans.

"They're trying to figure out what those people will do, when and if they come to power," Putin said.

"What's so strange about it?" he asked. "Why do you have this spy hysteria? Russian meddling hysteria?"

Mentioning revelations about Russian purchases of ads on social media, Putin said they represented a tiny percentage of what American entities spent. And he criticized the U.S. for putting restrictions on Russian-backed media outlets such as RT.

"You just need to do your homework, draw the right conclusions," Putin told Moran. "We shouldn't attack each other."

Putin, who recently announced a bid for re-election that would keep him in office through 2024, also spoke about the idea of rotating personnel. As Lucian Kim reports, the president said that "rotation of personnel stops abuse" in the army, and the idea could also work in law enforcement.

In last year's iteration of this event, Putin attacked the policies of outgoing President Barack Obama, who he said had divided the American people. He also took issue with Obama saying that late President Ronald Reagan would "roll over in his grave" because of Putin's popularity in the GOP.

"On the contrary," Putin said, "Reagan would be happy that Republicans are winning everywhere and had chosen Trump, who understood the mood of the American people."

Thursday's news conference lasted for nearly four hours. Nearly three hours into the session, a man from Murmansk stood to pepper Putin with questions about how the fishing and processing industries are affected by federal decrees. He waved a 400-page research document to back his case.

"I'm no journalist, I deceived you," the man said, adding that he heads the board of directors of a fishing company in the northern city near the Barents Sea.

When told that he shouldn't have lied, the man, who said his name was Mikhail, replied, "We've been working hard to survive."

"We should sell fish like we sell chicken," the man said, after stating that fishermen could deliver fish to the market at a much lower price than it currently must.

The man concluded his remarks by stating, "Yes, I'm here illegitimately. I pretended to be a journalist" — a line that won applause from the crowd.

Another notable exchange dealt with Putin's re-election campaign — and it showed how quickly the Russian president can pivot away from a subject. We'll excerpt the official Kremlin transcript, which begins with press secretary Dmitry Peskov calling on a reporter from Life News:

Dmitry Peskov: Life News.

Alexander Yunashev: Good afternoon, Mr President.

While we were waiting for your announcement that you will run for president, a number of other candidates for this office came forward. However, their approval ratings are in the single digits, if not closer to the margin of error.

In your opinion, why is it that a normal, influential opposition candidate has not emerged in almost 20 years of your rule? Why is there no No. 2 politician? How come? Don't you feel bored? Is it interesting for you to compete in the election without any major opponents?

Vladimir Putin: In order to make your question a bit more poignant, I saw a young lady holding up a poster saying "Putin, bye-bye."

Remark: Putin, babay.

Vladimir Putin: Ah, babay ["grandfather," in the Tatar language]. My vision does not seem to be getting any better with age. I am sorry.

Dmitry Peskov: Pass the microphone, please.

Question: Good afternoon...

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