MOSCOW – Russian President Vladimir Putin used his annual marathon press conference on Thursday to reinforce his reputation as the country’s guarantor of stability.
Putin, who has been in power as president or prime minister for more than a decade and a half, announced last week that he would run for another six-year term as president in March, giving him just three months to campaign.
He said Thursday he would run as an independent, but still counts on broad support from political parties and the general populace.
During the televised presser lasting more than three and a half hours, Putin repeatedly insisted that, under his rule, Russia has managed to overcome the turbulence that followed the dissolution of the Soviet Union in the 1990s.
“Young people do not remember and do not even know what happened in the 1990s and the early 2000s, and they cannot compare it with what there is now,” Putin said.
Further noting stability in the Russian economy, Putin said the country has overcome a recession of the past three years. He noted that direct foreign investments have doubled this year to 23 billion dollars.
Russia has managed to surpass the shocks to its economy in 2014-15, a sharp reduction in prices for energy commodities, and “external restrictions, so-called sanctions,” Putin told the audience of more than 1,000 reporters.
“With confidence, I can say that the sanctions have not had as much impact as the reduction in prices for oil,” Putin said, adding that Russia has also become the world’s top exporter of grain, with a record harvest of more than 130 million tons this year.
Putin is almost certain to win re-election. The country’s largest independent pollster, Levada Centre, said last week that almost 70 per cent of the Russians who intended to vote in the upcoming election would vote for Putin, according to a nationwide survey.
Putin was challenged during the presser by a rival candidate, socialite-turned-politician Ksenia Sobchak, about the state of the political opposition.
Sobchak, who was in the audience, questioned the Russian president on whether opposition leader Alexei Navalny was being oppressed. In response, Putin again reminded the audience of the turbulence that Russia experienced after the Soviet dissolution.
Putin equated Russian opposition movements with former Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili’s political machinations in neighbouring Ukraine. “Would you want dozens of Saakashvilis running around in our streets?” Putin told Sobchak.
Putin earlier described Saakashvili’s ambitions to overthrow Ukraine’s president as “spitting in the face of the Georgian people and spitting in the face of the Ukrainian people.”
Saakashvili – who led Georgia in a war against Russia in 2008 that was brief but devastating for his country – has been leading a protest movement in Ukraine in recent months after entering the country illegally amid a mass brawl on the Polish border between his supporters and Ukrainian authorities.
Last week, in a move that bolstered Putin’s reputation for stability, he announced that Russia had accomplished its mission in Syria after defeating the extremist group Islamic State.
A “significant portion” of Russia’s troops would soon return home, Putin said in a speech at an airbase in north-western Syria.
That move ahead of the election was a way to clear away potential liabilities, said Russia expert Mark Galeotti, senior researcher at the Institute of International Relations Prague.
“The prospect of casualties in Syria is not at all popular,” Galeotti said by email. “This is a way of reassuring the Russian populace.”
Putin also praised Russia’s accomplishments in Syria during the conference, saying the defeat of insurgents has paved the way for a political settlement to the conflict. -dpa