Putin’s Annual News Conference in Russia Gets Underway

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia is holding his year-end news conference on Thursday, resuming an annual tradition at a critical moment for the war his forces are waging in Ukraine.

The December news conference has traditionally been a wide-ranging marathon that offers reporters a rare — albeit stage-managed — chance to pose potentially tricky questions. Mr. Putin finds himself in much better shape than a year earlier, when he skipped the ritual amid setbacks in Ukraine.

There were about 600 journalists, including about a dozen Western correspondents, on hand in Gostiny Dvor, a large event space just one block away from Moscow’s Red Square. Mr. Putin was also taking called-in questions from people across Russia.

Here’s a look at the topics Mr. Putin is addressing and is likely to be asked about.

Mr. Putin is nearing the third year of his invasion of Ukraine in a position of relative strength, and his responses on Thursday underscored that point. The Russian leader said that his goals in Ukraine had not changed — the “demilitarization” and “denazification” of the country. He reiterated that he was open to peace talks, but offered no hint of a willingness to compromise.

“If they don’t want to talk, then we are forced to take other measures, including military ones,” Mr. Putin said, when asked by one of the news conference’s moderators when the war will end. And he added that he saw no need for another military draft because, he claimed, some 500,000 people had signed up for military service voluntarily. “Why do we need mobilization?” Mr. Putin said. “Today, there’s no need for it.”

Bolstered by dense defenses, Russian forces have fended off Ukraine’s counteroffensive this year and are now attacking in several areas along the front line. Russia’s military production is ramping up, and the army — despite very high casualties — has been able to regain its footing without resorting to a new wave of mobilization. And the deadlock over military aid for Ukraine in the U.S. Congress has made Mr. Putin’s long-term bet that his country will outlast adversaries appear more realistic.

“They’re getting everything as freebies,” Mr. Putin told the news conference, referring to Western arms deliveries to Ukraine. “But these freebies can run out at some point, and it looks like they’re already starting to run out.”

Mr. Putin has made the resilience of his country’s wartime economy a major talking point in recent public speeches. Despite a flurry of international sanctions, the Russian economy has regained its prewar size and is expected to grow by about 3 percent this year, as a significant increase in military spending stimulates production, while labor shortages force wages to rise.

But record state spending has come at a cost: Inflation has climbed sharply since the spring, and Mr. Putin acknowledged on Thursday that it could reach 8 percent this year. High interest rates are stifling private investment, companies are struggling to find workers and the economy is becoming more dependent on volatile oil revenues. But for now, Mr. Putin seems happy to tout strong headline figures, which support his broad narrative that the worst economic effects of the war are over.

The news conference provided Mr. Putin with foils for one of his favorite themes: presenting his foreign adversaries as hypocritical and decadent.

The outbreak of the war with Hamas has diverted international attention from Ukraine. Amid mounting calls for a cease-fire in Gaza as the death toll from Israel’s bombardment of the enclave climbs, Mr. Putin sought to differentiate between the actions of the Russian and Israeli militaries. It’s a claim he has been leveraging to try to discredit the West and to gain sympathy around the world.

“Look at the special military operation” — in Ukraine — “and look at what’s happening in Gaza, and feel the difference,” Mr. Putin said, when asked about Gaza by a Turkish journalist. “Nothing of the sort is happening in Ukraine.” (In fact, Russia’s invasion has caused massive civilian casualties, including thousands in the city of Mariupol.)

Mr. Putin has largely succeeded in resigning the Russian public to the war and to a prolonged standoff with the West. Organized resistance to the war is waning amid escalating repression, and Mr. Putin has recently cracked down on the ultranationalist minority that had criticized his war strategy.

Whether Mr. Putin can sustain public apathy into next year is uncertain. Even if American support to Ukraine wanes, most analysts believe Mr. Putin’s forces are unlikely to achieve a decisive breakthrough without another wave of mobilization, which would be deeply unpopular.

With Russia’s political system under his firm control, Mr. Putin is widely expected to win another six-year term as president in the election in March. In the absence of a genuine competition among candidates, the vote will most likely turn into a referendum about Mr. Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine, and he will probably use the result to add a veneer of legitimacy to the war and to trumpet Russians’ approval of his actions.

If he were re-elected and served out another term, by 2030 Mr. Putin would become the longest-serving Russian leader since the Empress Catherine the Great in the 18th century, surpassing all the Soviet rulers, including Stalin.

Ivan Nechepurenko and Anatoly Kurmanaev contributed reporting.


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