The Cable

Putin Won’t Confirm or Deny He’s Running for Russian President

Also, he’s willing to offer “human rights defender” James Comey asylum alongside Edward Snowden.

little baby putin

In his annual phone-in session, which lasted over four hours, Russian President Vladimir Putin answered many questions. Someone asked about the largest fish he ever caught. Twenty kilograms, he said. Someone asked where he would go if he had a time machine. World War II, he said (or, as it’s known in Russia, the Great Patriotic War). Someone asked what he thinks of the demolition project that has sparked protests in Moscow. He said he cares what Muscovites think. Someone asked which world leader has the strongest handshake. He answered that leadership is not a handshake.

One question Putin would not answer, however, is who his successor would be. Putin reminded listeners it is up to the Russian voters to decide. He did not answer whether he would be president at the time of the next annual phone-in. Which is to say that with nine months to go until Russian presidential elections, Putin, who is very likely to remain president, won’t actually say whether he’s running for the office.

He also didn’t answer questions that appeared in graphic form at the bottom of the screen that differed from those that were actually being asked, such as, “Putin, do you really think people believe this circus of set-up questions?” It was unclear whether such questions were a production accident or an intentional troll.

Putin also answered a question about former FBI Director James Comey, who was fired for investigating ties between Donald Trump’s team and Russia.

“It sounds very strange when the head of the security services writes down a conversation with the commander-in-chief and then leaks it to the media through his friend,” Putin said, comparing Comey to Edward Snowden, the NSA whistleblower who sought asylum — and now lives — in Russia.

“That means he is not the leader of the security services, but a human rights defender,” the Russian president added. “And if he faces pressure, then we are happy to offer him political asylum, too.”

Putin and Trump are scheduled to meet in July in Hamburg for the G-20 summit.

Photo credit: ALEXANDER NEMENOV/AFP/Getty Images

Emily Tamkin is a staff writer at Foreign Policy covering ambassadorial and diplomatic affairs in Washington. @emilyctamkin

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