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Most Hated Leaders, Lady Friends, and Assad: Highlights from Putin’s Marathon Q&A

Russian President Vladimir Putin fielded a wide range of questions in his semiannual news conference Thursday.

Russian President Vladimir Putin gestures while answering a question during his annual televised call-in show in central Moscow on April 14, 2016. / AFP / SPUTNIK / MIKHAIL KLIMENTYEV        (Photo credit should read MIKHAIL KLIMENTYEV/AFP/Getty Images)
Russian President Vladimir Putin gestures while answering a question during his annual televised call-in show in central Moscow on April 14, 2016. / AFP / SPUTNIK / MIKHAIL KLIMENTYEV (Photo credit should read MIKHAIL KLIMENTYEV/AFP/Getty Images)

Twice a year, Russian President Vladimir Putin combs his hair, straightens his tie, and sits calmly in front of a television camera fielding questions from journalists and regular Russian citizens for hours on end.

This year, more than 3 million questions were sent his way, and he answered a number of them in the marathon three-hour and 40-minute question-and-answer session. Foreign Policy has compiled some of the highlights below:

Panama Papers: After some of Putin’s closest confidantes, including a professional cello player, were implicated in the massive document leak from Panamanian bank Mossack Fonseca, the Russian leader said claims they did anything illegal were baseless and intended to undermine the Putin administration ahead of elections. This month he said his cellist friend Sergei Roldugin used his money to bring musical instruments back to Russia. On Thursday, he said the documents themselves are largely truthful and “appear not to have been prepared by journalists but, most likely, by lawyers.”

But he then said that it was no coincidence the German newspaper that acquired the initial documents was tied to Goldman Sachs, an American investment banking firm. “Here in Russia we can still imagine a bribe in the form of greyhound puppies, but the violin and the cello? I have not heard of that,” he said. “Who does it, these provocations? We know that there are some staff from official American institutions.”

Lady friends: Late last month, rumors began to swirl that Putin is not just dating, but seriously dating, Wendi Deng, Rupert Murdoch’s ex-wife who destroyed her marriage with the media king after her written fantasies about a man named Tony (believed to be then-British Prime Minister Tony Blair) were leaked. When asked generally about when he would introduce a new “first lady” to Russia, Putin didn’t elaborate or expand on the Deng rumors.

“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?” he asked. “And seriously, people are elected to the State Duma, to other posts, so that they work … 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.”

Least favorite world leaders: Putin openly discusses his dislike for Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan so regularly that even a 12-year-old girl who got the chance to ask a question Thursday wanted to know which one he hates the most.

“If Poroshenko and Erdogan were both sinking, whom would you save first?” she asked.

“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.”

Helping Assad: Moscow has backed embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad with airstrikes and ground military support since September, but the Kremlin announced last month they will now begin withdrawing their troops. On Thursday, Putin said he thought Syria would do just fine because Russia’s support for the Syrian military left it “in such a state that they are able to carry out offensive operations, and we have seen that after our withdrawal they took back Palmyra.”

“Around Aleppo, the situation is very difficult,” he said. “It is the second-largest city and commercial capital. The opposition is trying to improve its position, while everything is fine with the Syrian army there. We are closely monitoring the situation and will do everything to make sure it does not deteriorate.”

Kind words about Obama: Last Sunday, in a wide-ranging interview on Fox News, U.S. President Barack Obama admitted that ousting Libyan strongman Muammar al-Qaddafi without a plan for what would come next was the biggest mistake of his presidency. On Thursday, Putin commended him for that admission, saying, “Only a very strong man could do that.”

Ukraine: In an unusual nod of approval to Ukraine, Putin said Poroshenko’s recent proposal to increase the number of monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in hopes of enforcing a cease-fire on the border of Russia was a good one.

“I think that is the right proposal,” he said. “We support it.”

Photo credit: MIKHAIL KLIMENTYEV/AFP/Getty Image

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