Putin discusses Ukraine, Black Sea spat, vaccines with public

President’s annual event answering the Russian people’s questions comes amid strained ties with the West.

Russian President Vladimir Putin takes part in an annual nationwide televised phone-in show in Moscow, Russia, June 30, 2021 [Sputnik/Sergei Savostyanov/Pool via Reuters]

Russian President Vladimir Putin has addressed a range of domestic and foreign policy issues in a question-and-answer session with the public.

“Direct Line with Vladimir Putin”, an annual event, is broadcast on TV and radio.

It was postponed last year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Here are some of his quotes from Wednesday’s session, which comes as Moscow’s ties with the West are severely strained over subjects including Ukraine, the jailed Kremlin critic Alexey Navalny and allegations of cyberattacks.

On getting vaccinated against COVID:

Last year, Russia became the first country to grant approval for a COVID-19 vaccine, Sputnik V, and release the first batch to the public.

Putin said: “I chose to be vaccinated with Sputnik V. The military is getting vaccinated with Sputnik V, and after all I’m the commander-in-chief.

“After the first shot, I didn’t feel anything at all. About four hours later, there was some tenderness where I had the shot. I did the second (shot) at midday. At midnight, I measured my temperature. It was 37.2 (Celsius). I went to sleep, woke up and my temperature was 36.6. That was it.

“I don’t support mandatory vaccination, and I continue to hold this point of view.”

On Ukraine:

Ukraine has been battling pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine since 2014. After a lull in fighting last year, the conflict escalated again at the start of 2021. In April, as Russia amassed more than 100,000 troops near the Ukrainian border and in Crimea, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy invited Putin to meet in eastern Ukraine.

Putin shot down that offer, saying instead the Ukrainian leader was welcome in Moscow “any time”. Russia later announced a troop pullback, but both Washington and Kiev say that the withdrawal has been limited.

On Wednesday, the Russian leader said: “Why should I meet with [Ukraine President Volodymyr] Zelenskyy if he has given up his country to full external control? Vital issues for Ukraine are not resolved in Kyiv, but in Washington and partly in Berlin and Paris. What is there to discuss? I’m not refusing (to meet him), I just need to understand what to talk about.”

On Russia’s recent Black Sea spat with the UK:

Relations between the West and Russia soured further earlier this month over an incident on the Black Sea. Russia claims it fired warning shots and dropped bombs in the path of a British destroyer that strayed into its territorial waters, but the United Kingdom has disputed that account.

“This is of course a provocation. That’s absolutely clear. What did they want to show and which goals did they want to achieve? First of all, it (the provocation) had several components. It was not only carried out by the British but also the Americans, because the British destroyer entered our territorial waters during the day, and early in the morning, at 7:30, I think an American strategic reconnaissance aircraft flew out of a NATO military in Greece, in Crete. This was reported to me … We saw it well, observed it. It was clear that the destroyer (entered our waters) first of all to pursue military goals, attempting with the help of the reconnaissance aircraft to reveal the actions of our military to stop such provocations…

“There was also a political component. A meeting (with US President Joe Biden) had just taken place in Geneva. One must ask why it was necessary to carry out such a provocation. Why is all this being done? In order to emphasise that these people do not respect the choice of Crimeans to join the Russian Federation.

“Even if we had sunk the British destroyer near Crimea it is unlikely that the world would have been on the verge of World War Three. Because I know that those who do this cannot emerge victorious from this war. This is very important. I don’t think that we would have been happy with that development.

“But at least we know what we are fighting for. We are on our territory, we fight for ourselves, for our future. We were not the ones to go to them, flying thousands of kilometres and arriving by waterways. They were the ones who came to our borders and violated our territorial waters.”

On social media:

In recent months, Russia has fined social media companies it claims refused to remove posts that encouraged children to join protests. These bans have come amid mass rallies in support of Kremlin critic Alexey Navalny.

Putin said: “We don’t plan on blocking anyone, we plan to work with them. But there are problems. They tell us to buzz off and don’t comply with our demands and Russian laws.

“We tell them, ‘You are spreading child pornography, instructions on how to commit suicide and prepare Molotov cocktails and so on, you need to take that down.’ They don’t even listen to what we are saying. This is wrong.”

On a successor:

Putin told Russians on Wednesday that the time would come when he would name his possible successor in the Kremlin, but said the choice would ultimately lie with voters.

Putin, 68, has been in power as president or prime minister since the turn of the century. His current six-year term in the Kremlin is due to end in 2024. His comments are being closely parsed for clues as to whether he plans to extend his rule.

Last year, Russia changed its constitution allowing him to run for two more six-year terms in the Kremlin, potentially remaining president until 2036.

“On the one hand, they say a holy place is never empty and that there are no irreplaceable people,” said Putin. “On the other hand, my responsibility is to give recommendations to people who will run for president. It happens in all countries in the world, I don’t know any exception.

“Of course, time will come when I hope I can say that in my opinion this or other person is worthy to lead such a wonderful country as our motherland, Russia.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies