Tue, 23 Jul 2019

Rising public discontent, dipping presidential ratings, and a stagnating economy come with this year's June 20 dial-in session with Kremlin leader Vladimir Putin.

Choreographed to portray the president as a benevolent leader who cares about the plight of ordinary Russians, the rare yearly public performance allows Putin to shift blame for much of the country's ills to local officials.

For the 2019 session, millions of Russians nationwide have been invited to pose questions that will be selected for the live broadcast. Usually, the hand-picked questions that Putin answers are about domestic issues.

In the past, they've varied from questions about dilapidated housing and roads to the affordability of drugs and public corruption.

On international diplomacy, the 66-year-old Putin has previously fielded questions on the possibility of World War III erupting, strained relations with Ukraine, and the freeing of imprisoned foreigners.

Leading up to his 17th Q&A session under the format, Russian authorities have freed or reduced widely perceived trumped up charges against journalists, human rights activists, and opposition figures.

Putin faces a public whose disapproval with the country's course is at a 12-year high, based on findings in January from the independent Levada polling group.

Confidence in Putin dipped to a three-year low last month to 31.7 percent, according to the Russian state-run pollster VTsIOM.

Poverty remains an issue as nearly half of Russian households say they can only afford bare necessities and not durable goods like furniture and appliances, a survey by the state-run Rosstat statistics agency found in May.

Up to $300 billion in potential investment has been lost since Russia illegally annexed Crimea in March 2014, economist Sergei Guriev of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, told Russia's The Bell media outlet in May.

Numerous rounds of U.S. and European Union sanctions over Russia's interference in Ukraine have limited foreign cash inflows.

Results have been mixed on Putin's pledges to fix or follow through on public grievances. Televised on-the-ground appearances usually accompany him when promises are kept.

In 2017, Putin arranged for a woman to be relocated from her home in a decrepit wooden building in Izhevsk, Udmurtia, to a studio apartment where her sister's family also was given a separate living space.

Putin also sent the woman and her family on a $21,000 vacation in Russia's Black Sea resort city of Sochi.

Conflicting accounts on the outcome of promises have emerged too.

In 2017, an 11-year-old boy complained that coal dust from the unloading of cargo ships was polluting the air in the Far Eastern port city of Nakhodka.

While the Komsomolskaya Pravda tabloid reported that the problem was solved with the installation of an air-quality monitor and implementation of green space programs, other local media said it wasn't.

Gazeta.ru, for example, reported that the only change implemented was to unload coal ships at night.

Putin displays stamina in the few public appearances he makes, including the annual state-of-the-nation address and news conference.

Like the question-and-answer session with journalists, the phone-in program could last hours. In 2013, the broadcast lasted nearly five hours and in 2015, a record 3.25 million questions were submitted.

In 2018, 2.7 million questions or complaints were submitted.

Regarding the time limit for the broadcast, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on June 18 that there were 'no restrictions.'

Five television channels, four of which are state-run, will broadcast the event. Three radio stations will air it.

Questions started being accepted on June 9 by telephone, text message, and the Internet. http://moskva-putin.ru

The state-run TASS news agency has reported that the emphasis in 2019 is to answer "as many submitted questions as possible."

TASS says Putin also could contact heads of regions or ministers on certain topics.

With reporting by the Moscow Times, The Bell, and TASS

Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036

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