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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Putin Answers All But One Question

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There was only one moment when he pointedly refused to answer a question from one of about 500 journalists present in a Kremlin theater where the Supreme Soviet used to meet.

It was when Philadelphia Inquirer commentator Trudy Rubin repeated the question she had first asked 18 months ago — "Who Is Mr. Putin?" — voicing what the whole world wanted to know about the man who had just inherited the Kremlin.

"I would ask you to spare me from having to answer this part of your question," Putin said, engaging her in a dialogue as he tends to do with journalists rather than simply answering their questions. "One should judge a person not by what he speaks of himself, but by what he does."

He continued with the list of what he considers to be the achievements of his year and a half at the top of the Russian state: first "returning federal functions to the federation," that is, reining in the governors, and then "starting a real modernization of the economic and political spheres," namely introducing Europe's lowest income and profit taxes, launching a "debureaucratization" program and pushing through a new law to limit the number of political parties.

Putin described the current several hundred political parties as "bacchanalia" and said that "it leads to a situation in which the population is unable to orient itself and elects not from among ideologies and platforms, but from among personalities."

"If we don't carry out a reform of the political system, people in Russia will continue to elect personalities," Putin said. One of the reasons the question of Putin's political identity arose in the first place was that even while campaigning for president he pointedly refused to spell out his economic or political platform and preferred to project the image of an active leader who promised a strong state.

On Wednesday, he singled out the Communist Party as the only strong political party in the country and said that during a recent meeting with Communist leaders he suggested that they return to the party's pre-World War I name: Social Democratic Workers' Party of Russia. That could be a "good first step" toward modernizing the party, he said.

Answering a question about proposals to bury Vladimir Lenin, Putin said he was against removing the body from the mausoleum.

"Many people [after 70 years of Communist rule] have their own lives tied up with Lenin's name," Putin said. "For them, Lenin's burial would mean that they had worshiped false values, put forward false tasks and their lives had been lived in vain. We have many such people."

Putin said the main achievement of his time in office is "stability and a certain consensus in society," which are necessary for economic and political "modernization."

"I treasure it very much and will do nothing that could upset the balance," he said. In a mild hit at his predecessor Boris Yeltsin, who is said to have favored burying Lenin, Putin said that such an act, considered by some to symbolize the country's ultimate burial of its Communist past, would in fact be "destructive" to the social fabric — "something we have already lived through."

Only when his reform program succeeds and people's thinking changes as a result, will he be able to carry out "the will of the majority," Putin said.

One of Putin's replies — on the role of Berezovsky — drew applause from the audience of journalists. When asked about Berezovsky's efforts to launch an opposition party and his predictions that Putin will be out of office by the end of the year, Putin paused and said: "Boris Berezovsky — who is that?"

After the applause subsided, he continued: "He was referred to as former [deputy] secretary of the Security Council, then former someone else, now he is former who?" Changing into a more serious tone, Putin said that he had long known Berezovsky, who was instrumental in his rise to power before turning into his most vocal opponent.

"He is an irrepressible, indefatigable man," Putin said. "All the time he keeps appointing someone or overthrowing someone. Let him labor." As for Berezovsky's oppositionist activities, Putin said that it could only benefit the Russian state. "If he finds something that we do wrong and presents it to the public, we should be only grateful to him because it should correct our behavior," Putin said. "He is a clever man, maybe he will uncover something?"

Putin answered a wide range of questions, ultimately extending the news conference by 40 minutes beyond the scheduled one hour.

Putin said Russia had no plans to act in concert with China should the United States abandon the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in order to deploy a missile defense shield, Reuters reported.

"In practice, we do not plan joint activities in this sphere, including with China," Putin said.

Putin said Russia does not view the NATO alliance as an enemy but sees no justification for its existence, The Associated Press reported.

"We do not see it as an enemy," he said. "We do not see a tragedy in its existence, but we also see no need for it." Putin argued that NATO was created as a Cold War alliance aimed against the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact satellites and has outlived its time. "There is no more Warsaw Pact, no more Soviet Union, but NATO continues to exist and develop," he said.

Putin dismissed claims that today's NATO was a political alliance, saying NATO's bombing raids on Yugoslavia were the work of a "military organization, and we're not happy about it." NATO's expansion into Eastern Europe creates "different levels of security on the continent … which does not correspond to today's realities and is not caused by any political or military necessity."

Putin called for the creation of a "single security and defense space in Europe," which he said could be achieved either by disbanding NATO, or by Russia joining it, or by the creation of a new body in which Russia could become an equal partner.

Putin said state broadcaster VGTRK will begin Russian-language broadcasts of Euronews, the European news channel, later this year, Reuters reported.

"In September, the Russian version of Euronews will run in real time in our country," Putin said.

"Our viewers and listeners will be able to receive full-scale information from this information program, and its viewers will be able to see coverage of Russia," he said.

"I think this is an important step toward integrating Russia with the European and international information space," he said.

Putin mentioned Euronews to show that no barriers are being created to block the free flow of information between Russia and the West. Fears about such barriers were raised by the Kremlin-approved Information Security Doctrine, about which Putin said "some definitions could have been better."

Putin defended the response to the sinking of the Kursk nearly a year ago, saying nothing could have saved the submarine's 118 crew members, the AP reported.

"Even if the very first second … we had appealed to our foreign colleagues, help would have still come too late. A simple chronology of events would show that," he said.

Putin was widely criticized for what many considered a delayed response to the tragedy. Russia waited four days to accept international offers to help rescue any surviving crew members, and Putin did not immediately interrupt his vacation to deal with the tragedy.

"Would it have been possible to save the crew? It would have been, but only if the designers building this type of boat in the 1980s had foreseen this kind of an accident and had created the necessary rescue means," Putin said. "From this, we should draw conclusions — technical and organizational ones. That is obvious."