Op-Ed

Live from Moscow: Here’s a Russian view from America

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during his annual televised call-in show in Moscow on June 15.
Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during his annual televised call-in show in Moscow on June 15. Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP

Olga Yakovleva is a journalist and documentary filmmaker based in Saratov, Russia. Right now she is at the Miami Herald for a two-week internship as part of a professional exchange program organized by International Center for Journalists. Being here, she realized that even if you can escape Russia, you can't get rid of Putin.

Today, I killed four hours watching the “Direct Line with Vladimir Putin.” For my American colleagues, I will explain: the annual television event is when the Russian leader holds a Q&A with the Russian people — a ritual begun in 2001 and carried out by Putin even during the years he was not president.

Last week, this year’s broadcast didn’t break any duration records — it lasted only four hours. During those on-air hours, Putin was asked about two million questions — he gave answers to 73 of them.

For me, a Russian in America, this exercise was interesting to watch from this side of the Atlantic, where almost every news channel has been talking lately about Russia around the clock, from its impact on Trump’s election to the scandal over the firing of FBI Director James Comey.

Most of the questions Putin addressed concerned quality of life issues; for example, people were requesting repairs to their houses, or seeking the construction of new hospitals, or higher wages. Questions online were displayed on the screen. Surprisingly, they appear not to have been pre-screened, because among them were queries like “When will you resign?” or “What’s your favorite Oliver Stone movie?”

Of course, a segment was devoted to the relationship between Russia and the United States. Putin reassured everyone by saying that our countries are not enemies. And the Russian president reaffirmed his denial of meddling in the U.S. election. But since the show aired, a Washington Post article claims to have evidence that Putin wanted Hillary Clinton to lose, and so to ensure that she did, operated via high-tech interference.

At the same time, Putin also complained about the sanctions against Russia by America. Putin remained true to his rhetoric. “Sanctions strengthen Russia — yes, in principle, Russia has always lived under sanctions,” he said. American sanctions are, as always, he said, aimed at restraining Russia. And Russia, meanwhile, rises again from its knees.

On the air, the chairman of the Russian Vegetable Union (wow!) boasted that in recent years, Russia has grown the best cucumbers and tomatoes in the world. Curiously, what did we eat before? And so on.

By the way, Putin did bring up the firestorm in America over Comey’s firing. And he compared Comey to NSA contractor Edward Snowden. Putin also offered Comey political refuge in Russia — if he needs it.There was also an odd question all the way from the U.S. — from Jeremy Bowling of Arizona, who asked how he, Putin, could combat the “racist Russophobia running crazy” in the U.S.

After the broadcast, there were plenty of memes on social media. People joked that they were expecting Putin to give a hamster to someone, fix a stool or tell an anecdote, waiting for “his insight of the blind and the resurrection of the dead.” And during the show, a boy named Misha was born in Ufa-city.

Commenting on the birth, Internet users wryly expressed the belief that Misha will have a chance to ask Putin his question — in 2035. The acting president of Russia, by the way, would not say whether he will take part in the 2018 elections.

And as the live broadcast came to an end, Internet jokers tried to reassure everybody that those who did not get their questions in this time should be patient; they still have their whole lives ahead of them to get their questions answered by Vladimir Putin.

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