Three and a half hours of Putin's press conference - I was watching on and off.
He's impressive, I have to admit.
Perhaps, I'm admitting this because of the LRB Russia story: one point in it is that Putin is so popular in Russia because he's a lot more eloquent than Yeltsin (who turns 76 today, by the way). And if I keep Yeltsin in mind, then Putin really seems very impressively eloquent. And if I substitute Yeltsin with Kuchma, or Yanukovych, or even Yushchenko, Putin still wins.
He's fluent and coherent, even though he dodges some kinds of questions too obviously.
The "successor" questions, for example.
A question from Chechnya, where 70 percent of the able-bodied population are unemployed - Putin attempted to counter this telling figure presented by a young Chechen journalist with the praise for Ramzan Kadyrov and his achievements.
The questions were very diverse; the closer it got to the end, the more it began to resemble a walk through a bazaar, where each vendor acts very loud trying to get your attention.
Was Putin using some kind of a prompter, I wondered.
A question about gay pride - which Moscow's mayor Luzhkov called "satanic" - Putin responded to it by mentioning Russia's sorry demographic state, implying that gays only make things worse, but he then pledged tolerance towards all kinds of groups.
Questions about racism didn't seem too prominent.
An albino Azeri complained about Armenia's aggression and occupation, and was concerned about Russia's military presence in Armenia - I didn't hear Putin's reply, but I still can't get that snow-white hair out of my mind: that guy shouldn't be having any problems with skinheads, cops and other nuts here. Unless they mistake him for an Estonian, of course.
An initiative from Volgograd WWII vets - to re-bury the Tallinn soldiers' remnants in Volgograd. Putin seemed to approve.
Lots of energy questions, Ukraine and Belarus mentioned every now and then: nothing hostile on the surface, but at one point it turns out that, basically, Ukraine, as a long-term recipient of cheap gas, is the reason why Russian pensioners are so poor. Then, we were all labeled unreliable transit countries, and the construction of the pipeline on the Baltic floor (mentioned by Copydude here) was cited as an example of Russia's willingness to remain a reliable partner to the West. And the reason Gazprom waited for a whole year with Belarus was because they didn't want to hurt Lukashenko in his re-election year.
Domestic, local issues: both now and during his previous addresses, I've noticed that Putin is encouraging people in the regions to be proactive in solving their own local problems, not to wait for Putin to interfere. Easier said than done, I guess. Unfortunately.
Sochi, the really pathetic situation with electricity there and the 2014 Olympics bid: the Olympics is a good reason to get everything in order in Russia's southern regions. How typical and how depressing that they can't fix it all for themselves, not because of someone else. Potemkin village mentality. Even though at the same time Putin claims it's being done so that the Russian citizens didn't have to spend their vacations abroad.
A question about the mayor of Arkhangelsk: as soon as he announced his plans to run for president in 2008, the prosecutor's office started a very aggressive investigation of everything about him, including his high school records. It made Putin laugh; they'll regret it when the guy wins the election and becomes president, he joked. But the really young, innocent-looking girl who was asking the question didn't even smile: "Please allow me to finish," she said very firmly. A conflict between the mayor and the government, nothing more, was Putin's response.
And as for Paul Klebnikov, Putin agreed with someone who had said that the guy died for democracy in Russia.
Of Litvinenko, Putin spoke with what could have been contempt and said that the guy knew no harmful secrets whatsoever.