Russian President Vladimir Putin has begun his annual call-in television program, Direct Line, with more than 1.5 million questions submitted from across Russia amid rising public discontent, a stagnating economy, and falling approval ratings for the longtime leader.
Early in the broadcast on June 20, Putin said that the questions that stuck out to him while reviewing them beforehand were about life in Russia, incomes, health issues, and waste management.
After vague answers on some of those topics, Putin turned to Western sanctions on Russia, which he said had cost the country around $50 billion-$55 billion. The president added that Europe had lost more than Russia because of the sanctions, noting that because the moves, Russia was developing its own technologies to replace things that used to be purchased abroad.
The sanctions 'in many ways, have mobilized us,' he said.
When asked whether Moscow will take measures to have sanctions lifted and 'make peace,' Putin replied that 'we don't have disputes with anyone' and with regards to the West's attitude toward Russia, 'nothing will change anyway if we alter our behavior.'
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Choreographed to portray the president as a benevolent leader who cares about the plight of ordinary Russians, the rare yearly public performance allows Putin to shift blame for much of the country's ills to local officials.
For the 2019 session, millions of Russians nationwide were invited to pose questions. Usually, the hand-picked questions that Putin answers are about domestic issues.
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