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World

Putin Fields Questions From Russian Citizens In Annual Live Call-In Show

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

After facing a wave of protests on Monday, Vladimir Putin was center stage before his nation today in a televised live call-in show. Two million questions were reportedly submitted. The Russian president fielded 70 of them, including one from an American fan. NPR's Lucian Kim in Moscow watched the four-hour marathon.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LUCIAN KIM, BYLINE: The so-called "Direct Line With Vladimir Putin" has become an annual Kremlin ritual to show that no question is too tough for Russia's president.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "DIRECT LINE WITH VLADIMIR PUTIN")

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Speaking Russian).

KIM: The show was present on all social media platforms, and citizens could pose their questions by phone, text message or even a special app. Mothers who had lost their homes in floods and fires appealed directly for help. A boy told Putin about the coal dust choking his city, and residents of a town outside Moscow complained that a mountain of garbage was about to bury their homes.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "DIRECT LINE WITH VLADIMIR PUTIN")

PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN: (Speaking Russian).

KIM: "It's a very tough situation," Putin said from the sleek Moscow studio. "I understand you perfectly." The point of the show wasn't to hide problems but to demonstrate that Putin was trying his best to get local officials to do their jobs. The show was dominated by perennial worries of low salaries, poor roads and inadequate health care, so Putin had little opportunity to talk about his favorite subject, foreign policy, until an American named Jeremy Bowling popped up on the screen from Mesa, Ariz., speaking through a Russian interpreter.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "DIRECT LINE WITH VLADIMIR PUTIN")

JEREMY BOWLING: I am a big supporter.

UNIDENTIFIED INTERPRETER: (Speaking Russian).

KIM: Bowling wanted to know how he could convince other Americans that Russia isn't an enemy. Putin said Russia doesn't consider the U.S. a foe. But later he took a jab at the American political establishment which is in an uproar over the former FBI director.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "DIRECT LINE WITH VLADIMIR PUTIN")

PUTIN: (Through interpreter) We would be ready to offer political asylum to Mr. Comey if he's persecuted in the U.S.

KIM: There he was through an interpreter. The one subject that came up only tangentially were Monday's nationwide protests organized by anti-corruption campaigner Alexei Navalny, who's now in jail.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "DIRECT LINE WITH VLADIMIR PUTIN")

PUTIN: (Speaking Russian).

KIM: Putin criticized unnamed opposition leaders who are only interested in exploiting the country's problems for their own political PR. Even though the show was tightly scripted, there was still room for the unexpected. As Putin spoke, live text messages flashed on the screen. All of Russia thinks you've sat on the throne long enough, somebody wrote. Is it true that Navalny is making a film about you, somebody else asked. Putin left that question and about 2 million others unanswered. Lucian Kim, NPR News, Moscow. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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