Russian President Vladimir Putin presented himself on Thursday as the sole guarantor of stability against a marginalized opposition accused of wanting to plunge Russia into chaos during an offensive face-to-face with the press.
A week after formalizing his candidacy for the presidential election in March for a fourth term that would bring him to power until 2024, Mr. Putin took the stage on Thursday in front of more than 1,600 journalists to answer for nearly 4 hours to questions about his daily life, the economy or the major international files.
In addition to his intentions for the next six years, the Russian President was asked to explain the lack of a real competitor for the poll expected on March 18, where he is credited by the independent Levada Institute with more than 75% of vote intentions.
After explaining his desire for a “competitive” political system and defending himself from dismissing the opposition, he was questioned by liberal candidate Ksenia Sobchak, accredited as a journalist for the independent Dojd channel.
She questioned him about the impediments faced by the main opponent Alexei Navalny, prevented from running for past convictions, and the assassinations of personalities critical of his regime.
“The regime is not afraid of anyone,” he replied.
Mr. Putin became president in 2000 in a country with unstable power and a faltering economy. Putin is praised by many of his fellow citizens for having been the man of the new prosperity, notably thanks to the oil windfall, and the return of Russia on the international scene.
His main opponent Alexei Navalny can not participate in the elections because of past convictions, which he had denounced as fabricated, leaving Putin as the only real contender.
The President also explained that he was standing as an “independent” candidate and not as a candidate for the pro-Kremlin United Russia party, and that he was counting on “broad support from his fellow citizens”.
His main challenge will be to convince the Russians to vote in a election that seems to be played in advance: only 28% of voters have shown a desire to go to the polls in March, according to the Levada Institute.
Vladimir Putin assured that the standard of living of the Russians would be his priority for his new mandate. He insisted: the country “has overcome the shocks”, the fall in oil prices and the Western sanctions, which plunged Russia into recession in 2015-2016 and weighed down the purchasing power of his fellow countrymen.
But the recovery is already running out of steam and in the long term, a further deterioration of the demographic situation may aggravate the trend.
Isolated as never before since the Cold War from the West, the Russian president has been offensive on foreign policy issues, denying once again any interference in the election of Donald Trump.
“All this was invented by people who are in opposition to Trump to delegitimize his work,” he insisted.
Russia, which hosts the football World Cup in June and July is also in the middle of an institutionalized doping scandal. The country has been excluded from the 2018 Winter Olympics. Its athletes will only be able to compete under a neutral banner.
Recognizing that Russia was “guilty” in part, Vladimir Putin assured that Moscow would defend its athletes “in court” and accused the whistleblower, the former head of the anti-doping laboratory Grigory Rodchenkov, of working for “the American secret service”.
“It is obvious that this scandal is inflated in connection with the Russian political calendar,” he said, with clear reference to the presidential election.