Sixteen times he’s done this now. Every year since 2001 – minus a couple – Vladimir Putin has gone through the endurance test.
For hours on end, the Russian president answers emails, texts, calls, videos, and live links from Russians.
This year’s Direct Line as it’s called, wrapped up after four hours and 20 minutes. It’s another part of Vladimir Putin’s macho image. What other world leader, Russian state TV sometimes asks, could manage such a feat?
Most of the content is domestic. Yes, the president tells the people who call in, things might have been difficult recently.
The oil price crash and Western sanctions have taken their toll on the economy. But thanks to the good work of the tireless government, sunny times lie ahead. That’s the message at least.
But for a leader who presents Russia as something akin to a besieged fortress, international affairs are essential talking points.
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According to Putin, the West has imposed sanctions on Russia “because they see Russia as a threat, they see that Russia is becoming a competitor”.
But Russia, he says, will defend its interests.
“This pressure will come to and end when our Western partners will realise that the methods they employ are ineffective, counterproductive and harmful to everyone.”
Putin has long wanted a new system of global security – one in which the United States no longer rules the roost. His restoration of Russia as a major global player can be viewed as a bid to bring about this desired multipolar world.
Advanced weaponry and a disruptive, assertive foreign policy are the tactics he hopes will eventually force the West to the negotiating table. If they don’t come to parlay, he warns, the results could be awful.
“The understanding that the Third World War will be the end of civilisation, this understanding must restrain us from extreme and dangerous steps in the international arena.”
But so far, Russia is generally seen by the West as an unruly aggressor – and one that won’t own up when its dark arts come to light. The poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal in the UK earlier in the year is a case in point.
As he has done several times before, Putin denied Russia’s involvement.
“If, as Britain insists, a military chemical agent was used against these people,” he said, “they would have died within second or minutes, on the spot. Thank God this did not happen. Clearly we are dealing with something other than a military agent.”
Such claims, repeated ad infinitum on Russian state TV and pro-Kremlin Twitter handles, go against chemical weapon expert’s opinion.
The lethality of nerve agents depends on how the poison enters the body, and if skillful medical attention is received lives can be saved.
So it might raise eyebrows in European capitals that when asked what advice he would pass on from his father to his grandchildren, Putin said, “Don’t lie.”
This year there were a couple of small tweaks to the tried and tested Direct Line format. The usual studio audience was ditched. And in came live links to government ministers and regional governors.
These politicians were there to report on successes and failures in their patches. And, when necessary, receive a stern interrogation by their president on behalf of his people.
But it’s fitting that, like Putinism in its fourth presidential term, these were largely cosmetic changes to what is essentially the same beast.
Expectations that a reformist agenda might be brought in following Putin’s landslide election victory in March have not come to pass. There’s no let up in the confrontation with the West.
For Putin’s policies, as well as his Direct Line, we’re getting more of the same.