(The Moscow Times) President Vladimir Putin pledged to stay the course on a range of key issues, from macroeconomic policy to the battle with corruption and the composition of Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev‘s Cabinet, during a record-breaking live call-in show broadcast on national television on Thursday.
The annual show, which lasted an unprecedented 4 hours and 47 minutes, saw a confident and apparently untiring Putin field 85 questions selected from about 3 million requests, another record, from Russians across the country and many walks of life.
Despite the Russian economy’s sluggish growth and continued reliance on natural resources, the government’s fundamental economic policies will not change, Putin said, adding that officials will continue to focus on macroeconomic indicators and push manufacturers to meet social demands.
The government will also concentrate on improving the business climate, which has gotten better recently, Putin said, citing international ratings without specifying them. Likewise, it has become easier to open a business and connect to the country’s infrastructure, he said.
The president says that despite sluggish growth and reliance on natural resources, basic economic policies will not change.
And while the Cabinet, especially Education Minister Dmitry Livanov, has recently faced intense criticism by the public and the ruling United Russia party, Putin argued that a reshuffle would do more harm than good and that the government, less than one-year-old, deserved more time.
A recently leaked video of Putin upbraiding a group that included ministers and governors for poor performance fueled speculation about the future of Medvedev’s Cabinet.
Foreign policy did not figure largely into the program, but Putin reserved some sharp words for the United States, saying that the U.S.-Russian relationship had suffered since the 2003 invasion of Iraq from Washington’s foreign policy and most recently from the Magnitsky Act.
Putin said the law, which calls for sanctions against Russians suspected of human rights abuses, was “imperialist.” He added that the Magnitsky Act represented a missed opportunity to “forget everything from the Cold War era” after the repeal of the Jackson-Vanik amendment, which restricted bilateral trade, paved the way for Russia’s accession to the World Trade Organization.
But he said the two sides must unite to combat terrorism in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing, which U.S. investigators say was carried out by two ethnic Chechens with strong ties to Russia’s North Caucasus region, home to a long-simmering Islamist insurgency.
“I simply hope that this tragedy will push us closer together in the struggle against common threats. … If we truly join forces, we won’t suffer such strikes and losses,” Putin said.
He accused Western journalists of using a double standard by referring to terrorists that attack Russia as “rebels,” and chided Western countries for what he called “sometimes indirect and sometimes direct” informational, financial and political support to extremists in Russia.