MOSCOW, April 14. /TASS/. Russian President Vladimir Putin will answer questions of the nation at his traditional annual question-and-answer marathon before television audiences, known as Direct Line with Vladimir Putin due to start at noon on Thursday.
The Direct Line will be broadcast by Russia's TV Channel One, Rossiya 1, Rossiya 24, radio stations Mayak, Vesti FM and Radio Rossii. Sign language interpretation will be available at the program's website and on Public Russian Television (OTR).
Among this year’s key topics are the economic situation in the country, social and everyday problems of people.
This Direct Line will be 14th for Putin over his presidency and premiership. The first president’s question and answer session was held in 2001. Before 2011, such events were organized in the autumn or winter, most often - in December. In 2013, it was decided to organize such session in April when the weather is warm enough for people wanting to ask their questions in live video linkups.
The Direct Line organizers began to collect questions a week ago, from noon on April 7. A day before the program, the number of questions received exceeded one million.
"The statistics is comparable with the previous years. Traditionally, high activity is observed in all areas," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. "Naturally, most questions come from telephone calls. You know that they are free from both landline and mobile phones. The number has slightly exceeded one million."
A special call center will be receiving questions till the very end of the program. Questions are also coming via SMS and MMS messages, there are video calls too. Along with that, Russian can address the president via the program’s website moskva-putinu.ru.
Among this year’s novelties is the use of the VKontakte social network. According to Peskov, about 100,000 users have already registered in this network. Most interesting and pressing questions will be asked in live telecast.
The venue for the session will be located at Gostinny Dvor near the Kremlin. Politicians, public figures and heroes of TV reports have been invited to attend the Direct Line. They will have an opportunity to ask their questions to Putin personally. Apart from that, mobile studios have been organized in various localities across Russia to give an opportunity for people to speak to the president directly.
The host of the Direct Line will be Valeria Korableva (Channel One) and Yevgeny Rozhkov (VGTRK).
According to the Kremlin spokesman, among the topics are both pressing problems and "more philosophical" issues and "very concrete cries for help." "Generally, most popular subjects are socio-economic issues, economic problems, everyday problems, such as housing conditions, etc.," Peskov noted, adding that there are many complaints of poor housing conditions. "Regrettably, the situation is not changing. I can say it judging from tens of thousands of question," he noted.
Among the most pressing problems this year is the quality of motor roads. "People are simply infuriated with the poor quality of roads. Neither last year nor earlier, we had that many such complaints," the presidential press secretary stressed.
He noted that this year the Russians demonstrate little concern with the currency rate. "The overwhelming majority of people care little about the ruble rate. I can judge it from hundreds of thousands of questions," he said. "This is not an issue that can be called critical. Critical issues are growing prices, wage arrears, but not the dollar exchange rate."
By now, the ruble exchange has lowered to 65 rubles per one U.S. dollars from the highest figures of 80 rubles per U.S. dollars in January-February.
Among other popular topics are privileges and pension indexation, the state exam and the quality of education, anti-corruption efforts and support to small businesses, the problems of dumps, expensive gasoline, etc.
As for international topics, according to Peskov, people are demonstrating support to the president’s foreign policy course. Nevertheless, in his words, it cannot be said that people are losing interest to international affairs. Among the most frequently asked questions are the settlement of the conflict in eastern Ukraine, Russia’s relations with the United States, NATO and the West in general, integration in the Eurasian space, etc.
According to Peskov, the president spent two previous days, April 12 and 13, getting prepared for his question-and-answer marathon. "traditionally, he singles out blocs of topics people touch upon in their question and asks for relevant information from expert divisions of the predidential administration and the ministers," he said. "As a rule, all try to be always accessible in these days. The President asks them many questions."
"What is most important is that it (such live question-and-answer sessions) is an opportunity to see which subjects are most pressing and topical across the entire country," Peskov said. "The Direct Line is probably the world’s best opinion poll the president uses in his everyday work."
Organizers never set any time limits for such question-and-answer sessions. The record in terms of the Direct Line duration was set in 2013, when the marathon lasted for four hours and 48 minutes. Last year, Putin answered questions for three hours and 55 minutes, a minute less than a year before. Put together, Putin’s 13 appearances have totaled more than 45 hours.