Vladimir Putin May Run Again, and Other Lessons From His Massive Press Conference

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Russian President Vladimir Putin answers the questions of press during an annual evaluation session in Moscow, Russia, on December 18, 2014.
Photo: Sefa Karacan/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Russian President Vladimir Putin attacked the West for his country’s economic woes Thursday, as he addressed the falling value of Russian currency and other divisive topics during a press conference with more than 1,200 reporters. And, though Putin is already on his second stint as president, he said that he will not rule out seeking reelection in 2018. If he is successful, Putin will hold Russia’s top post for 20 years — 24 if you include a brief interlude as prime minister to president-in-name-only Dmitry Medvedev.

Thursday’s marathon press conference lasted about three hours and ten minutes, and was teased aggressively beforehand, with a trailer befitting a low-budget feature film:

During the press conference, the highly popular president was grilled on the falling ruble, the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, and Russia’s internal tensions. He took the opportunity to defend Russia’s status in the world and its right to defend its interests:

Putin denied accusations that he is inciting a major international conflict in Ukraine, accusing the West — particularly the U.S.— of being in a pot-calling-the-kettle-black situation. “Our budget is $50 billion — the Pentagon budget is 10 times higher. Does anyone listen to us at all? Does anyone have a dialogue with us? No,” he said. “All we hear is ‘mind your own business.’ In the Ukrainian crisis I believe we are right and our Western partners are wrong.”

Not one to pull punches, Putin also didn’t hesitate to bring up the recently released Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the CIA’s use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” after 9/11. He claimed the U.S. legalized torture, while Russia holds to its constitution.

The recently divorced leader also answered some questions about his personal life from a concerned reporter. “Everything is fine, don’t worry,” Putin said. “My friend from Europe asked me, ‘Do you have love? Do you love someone?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ ‘And does someone love you?’ I said, ’Yes.’”

But weighing most heavily on the minds of everyone in attendance was the ruble’s recent downward spiral. At the Wednesday low, one U.S. dollar was buying 79 rubles, though the free-fall appears to have stabilized. For some, Tuesday’s value drop called to mind a similar incident 20 years ago, now known as Black Tuesday

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Customers choosing meat products at a Perekrestok supermarket. Photo: Geodakyan Artyom/ITAR-TASS Photo/Corbis

He attributed a significant portion of these ongoing economic woes to Western sanctions, introduced in part because of his annexation of Crimea. But the president also told Russians not to worry, assuring them that the economy would rebound. (Indeed, the ruble was up to 61 to a dollar during his address.) “Our economy will overcome the current situation. How much time will be needed for that? Under the most unfavorable circumstances I think it will take about two years,” he said.

To top off the economic downturn, Apple halted its sales in the country Wednesday. This shouldn’t be a big deal, since Russia thinks Tim Cook has gay cooties, but iPhones are iPhones, and this move can’t be good for morale.