Russian President Vladimir Putin gave the world a number of great quotes during a marathon three-hour-and-15-minute news conference Thursday. Putin voiced optimism about Russia’s diving economy and was in usual, defiant form in regard to Russia’s showdown with the West over the Ukraine crisis.
The yearly press conferences, attended by more than a thousand journalists, usually run for more than three hours and have become a sort of political spectacle in Russia. It’s become so big that state-owned Channel One created this action-packed trailer for it and has been broadcasting it across Russia for the past week:
With the ruble diving near all-time lows, international condemnation for Russian intervention in Ukraine and a slew of sanctions weighing down the economy, Putin had a lot to answer for. But he's still immensely popular: About 80 percent of Russians approve of his job as president. It was clear Putin felt bolstered by that support, based on what he had to say over those three hours on Thursday. A full transcript can be read on the Kremlin’s website, here. Here are some of the best quotes from the annual press conference:
1. On West-Russia tensions: “[Sometimes I think] our bear should probably just sit quietly and just eat honey instead of hunting animals, maybe then they will leave the bear in peace, but, no, they will not. What they are trying to do is chain the bear, and when they chain the bear they will take out his fangs and claws. This is how nuclear deterrence is working at the moment. If they take out the bear’s fangs and claws, then the bear will not be able to do anything. It will just be a stuffed animal.”
2. On the state of the economy, when asked if it was the price Russia had to pay for seizing Crimea: “This is how we have to pay for our natural will to preserve our nation, to maintain our state.”
3. On the Crimea annexation: “To chop Texas from Mexico is fair, but when we make decision about our territories it is unfair.” The U.S. annexed Texas in 1845, when Nicholas I was emperor of Russia. Catherine the Great conquered Crimea from the Turks in 1783.
4. On the Sochi Olympics: “No matter what we do, they are always [opposing] us. They are always against our actions. If we recall our preparations for the [2014 Olympic Games in Sochi]… what we saw was a coordinated effort to jeopardize the preparation process and the Olympic Games themselves. I don’t know who wanted to do that and why, but that is what we are witnessing all the time.”
5. On free speech: “I would like to assure you that there is no organization or any sort of repression against people who don’t agree with our actions, for example in Ukraine, Crimea, or any other external issue, no one from official government organs do this.”
6. On Russia's growing military: “As for our drills and development of our military forces, Russia to a certain extent contributed to the tension. But only in a sense that we have been protecting our interests in a tougher way. We are not aggressive. U.S. military bases are all over the world. And you are saying that WE are aggressive?”
7. On Russia threatening NATO nations: “Is it us who are moving our military structure closer to borders of other countries? What we hear is just, 'Mind your own business.' Who resigned from the ABM treaty unilaterally? The United States. We believe that we are right regarding the Ukrainian crisis.”
8. On uniformed Russian soldiers fighting in Ukraine on behalf of separatists: “All the people who by their own will want to fulfill their duty in eastern Ukraine are not mercenaries, for they are not paid for their actions. What is happening in eastern Ukraine is a punitive operation launched by Kiev.”
9. After Ksenia Sobchack, a well-known anti-Kremlin activist and journalist, was allowed to ask a question about Putin’s government suppressing opposing political viewpoints: “Why did you give her the floor?”
10. On how long it will take for the Russian economy to recover from its dive this year: “How long will this take? In a worst-case scenario, I believe it would take a couple of years. I repeat: after that, growth is inevitable, due to a changing foreign economic situation among other things. A growing world economy will require additional energy resources. However, by that time I have no doubt that we will be able to do a great deal to diversify our economy, because life itself will force us to do it. There is no other way we could function.”