Russian President Vladimir Putin addresses the nationwide audience during his annual Direct Line question and answer session, during the course of which he regularly manages to answer a multitude of questions flooding in by telephone, text, email, social media, or live via television studios.
On Russia's economy
President Putin believes that Russia is moving towards what he described a "stable white zone."
"If we are to apply such categories as white, black and grey to see what zone we are in at the moment, we are moving towards the stable white zone," Putin said.
The president has also guaranteed the growth of Russia's economy in the short term.
As an example, he mentioned the snowy expanses of the Arctic and the Antarctic, where "certain grey and black spots" could be found, too.
"We have it the same way. But in general we are moving in the absolutely correct direction," Putin said.
The president has also guaranteed the growth of Russia's economy in the short term. "Everything says that in the short term growth is guaranteed," the head of the state said.
According to the president, Russia has reached a sustainable economic growth trajectory and all-time low inflation.
"We have reached a sustainable economic growth course. Indeed, it is rather modest, yet it is not a decline, but growth - of 1.5% last year, industry is on the rise by 1%, agriculture is demonstrating a stable growth, which has turned into a sustainable trend," he said.
According to Putin, the current all-time low level of inflation is a strong factor driving economic growth. He also mentioned accelerated growth of direct investments in the Russian economy, which rose by 4.4% last year.
"We have reached a sustainable economic growth trajectory. Indeed, it is rather modest, but it is not a decline, but growth - of 1.5% last year, industry is rising by 1%, agriculture is demonstrating a stable growth, which has turned into a sustainable trend," he said.
Moreover, the maneuvers in budget-related activities will be aimed at reducing poverty nationwide.
The ministers should be personally responsible for the implementation of economic plans, Vladimir Putin said, when answering a question about the new Russian government and its plans.
"It was necessary to keep those [in the government] who prepared decisions on our country’s breakthrough development to personalize responsibility for what had been done to date and what is being mapped out in the near future," the Russian president pointed out.
On gasoline price hikes
The situation on the nation’s fuel market is not acceptable and the Russian government has already made a series of decisions designed to curb rising gasoline prices, President Putin said.
"The government has already made a number of decisions exactly called to solve this task [rising gasoline prices - TASS]. I agree current the developments are unacceptable. This is not proper. However, it should be recognized that this is a result of incorrect, to put it mildly, regulation introduced recently in the sphere of energy, and energy resources," Putin noted.
Inaccurate regulation in the sector and a revision of tax measures for budget replenishment led to a stimulation of crude oil exports, Putin said.
"They [oil companies - TASS] are estimating shortfalls in profits for the volume of oil they direct to refineries, which, as they believe, could be sold on the international market and garner greater revenues. The government has already made a number of decisions in this regard, just recently. By the way through dialogue with our leading oil and gas companies," the head of state added.
On the new government
The Russian leader also explained why a decision had been made against making radical changes in the Russian government.
"The development plan, about the need for the implementation of which we have been speaking in the past few years, was prepared by the previous government over the course of at least the last 18 months," Putin stressed.
"And I know perfectly well that if we had renewed the government by 100% and brought in absolutely new people, even very knowledgeable and very-skilled persons, it would have taken at least two years to formulate either already existing tasks or new ones," the Russian president said.
"We would have lost at least two years," Putin noted. "But we do not have these two years," Putin stressed.
The Russian president said that this was the reason why he had made a decision to considerably renew the Cabinet with persons who are "newcomers but who are well-prepared and who have proven their efficiency in high-profile, responsible posts."
"I think we have an optimal government today," the Russian leader stressed.
The Russian president said he was familiar with discussions on the new government’s composition.
"I had no doubts that they would emerge and it is good that discussions arise in our country on almost every issue, on any administrative decisions and on decisions in the economic and social spheres," Putin said.
On European security
It is time to sit down at the negotiating table and draw up a modern scheme of European and international security, the Russian leader stressed.
"Time is ripe to sit down at the negotiating table and not only ponder over but also draw up modern and timely schemes of international and European security," Putin noted.
Putin slammed the US pullout from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty as "an attempt to break strategic parity."
"But we are responding to this. In my address [to the Federal Assembly] I spoke about this: modern armament systems, which have been developed and will be put into service, will certainly maintain this parity."
"But we should understand this and think about it and find new ways for our cooperation, which meet modern realities," he noted.
On Ukraine crisis
Vladimir Putin urged Kiev to abide by the Minsk Accords, and not fan tensions ahead of the elections in Ukraine.
"What is the reason for doing this [increasing bombardments of the Donetsk and Lugansk republics] at a time when it is just possible to follow the Minsk Accords," Putin said at Thursday’s Q&A session in reply to a question from author Zakhar Prilepin. "This is absurd from the standpoint of achieving the end result - restoring the country’s territorial integrity. The longer it continues this way, the worse it will be for Ukraine."
"Sometimes I get the impression that in Ukraine, which is entering a new domestic political cycle, including the parliamentary and presidential elections, the situation is getting worse," he said.
"Under the current state of affairs the Ukrainian authorities are unable to address the problem of these territories - the Donetsk and Lugansk Republics. To a certain extent because they do not need the electorate of these territories. It is clear that voters there will never agree to vote for the current authorities."
The Russian leader has also warned Ukraine that its statehood would face dire consequences if any military provocations were stirred up during the Russia-hosted FIFA World Cup.
"I hope it won’t come to provocations, but if this happens, I think this will generally have dire consequences for Ukraine’s statehood," the president said during the annual Q&A session in reply to a question by writer Zakhar Prilepin.
"I expect that nothing like this will happen," the president said, stressing that "it is impossible to intimidate" the residents of Donbass.
On sports and the World Cup
The Russian leader said he hoped for a feasible approach regarding the use of football infrastructure, which should remain in the country after the 2018 FIFA World Cup this summer, and all football facilities would be recoupable and operational.
Russia has succeeded in ensuring the year-round use of the infrastructure facilities built for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, the president reminded.
"Unlike many countries, we have managed to solve this task. Both Sochi clusters are actively used, which is a clear success," he said in response to a remark made by State Duma member, renowned football coach Valery Gazzaev who had called for ensuring the full use of the FIFA World Cup infrastructure once the tournament has finished.
The Sochi Olympic and Paralympic Games in Russia’s Black Sea resort of Sochi took place in February and March 2014. The Fisht Olympic Stadium was revamped later and will now host the FIFA World Cup matches.
Putin also believes that the Russian football squad will perform at its best at 2018 FIFA World Cup:
"I hope that our team will soar to success and will display its utmost," Putin said during his annual Q&A conference. "Although our national team has not been showing remarkable results recently, the number of this sport is huge, including millions [in Russia]."
"By the way, I do remember my dialogue with the head coach of the national judo team [Ezio Gamba]," Putin said. Our judokas showed average results ahead of the 2012 Olympics participating in the European and world tournaments, but Gamba said then that ‘our main start is set for the Olympic Games’."
"He [Gamba] was right back then, since our Olympic team showed a result that no other team would have achieved, including the Japanese team, and I hope to see that the national football team will also score a big win at the upcoming world championship showing its best result ever."
Led by Head Coach Ezio Gamba the Russian team of judo wrestlers won their first ever Olympic gold medals in judo at the 2012 Summer Games in London, namely by judokas Arsen Galstyan (under-60kg weight category), Mansur Isayev (under 73-kg weight category) and Tagir Khaibulayev (under 100-kg weight category).
The 2018 FIFA World Cup kicks off next Thursday with the opening match in the Russian capital of Moscow between hosts Russia and the national team from Saudi Arabia.
Russia selected 11 host cities to be the venues for the matches of the 2018 World Cup and they are Moscow, St. Petersburg, Sochi, Kazan, Saransk, Kaliningrad, Volgograd, Rostov-on-Don, Nizhny Novgorod, Yekaterinburg and Samara.
The matches of the 2018 World Cup will be held between June 14 and July 15 at 12 stadiums located in the 11 mentioned above cities across Russia. Two of the stadiums are located in the Russian capital.
On December 1, 2017, the State Kremlin Palace in Moscow hosted the Final Draw for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, which determined the group breakdown for the FIFA flagship event this year. A total of 32 national football squads were divided into eight groups with four teams in each. Host Russia was placed in Group A with teams from Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Uruguay.
Putin's annual Q&A marathons
Vladimir Putin has hosted the Q&A sessions 11 times as President and four times as Prime Minister.
Past experience shows that the Russian public is primarily concerned with social and economic problems - construction projects, transportation, telecommunications, jobs and wages, the environment, the use of natural resources, housing, healthcare, and education. Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov says the President traditionally gets "a lot of stories from his daily routine, with people asking for his personal assistance."
The scope of questions sent via the moskva-putinu.ru website covers prices for gasoline and airfares, mortgage loan rates, and reforming the national pension system. Some are asking if Putin will hold a summit with Donald Trump or what his personal forecast is on how Team Russia will perform at the FIFA World Cup 2018.
The first Direct Line question and answer session was broadcasted on December 24, 2001. Subsequently, it turned into annual event with the exception of 2004 and 2012. In 2017, Putin answered questions from nationwide audiences on June 15.
The Direct Line in 2013 set a record proving to be the longest one, lasting for 4 hours 47 minutes. Over the past four years, these Q&A sessions have lasted from 3 hours 40 minutes to 3 hours 57 minutes.