G7 Nations Focus on Helping Ukraine Rebuild – The…
It has been an annual ritual of Vladimir V. Putin’s Russia: The president holds a wide-ranging, marathon news conference in December, making a somewhat choreographed show of openness to questioning and demonstrating his command of an array of topics.
But after a series of military setbacks in his war in Ukraine, with Russia’s casualties mounting and its economy faltering under sanctions, Mr. Putin has decided to skip it this year. Dmitri S. Peskov, Mr. Putin’s spokesman, did not offer a reason as he told reporters during a daily briefing on Monday that the event would not take place, and he held out the possibility that it might be rescheduled for the new year.
Mr. Putin first held the year-end news conference in 2001, two years into his presidency. The practice was interrupted when he was prime minister from 2008 to 2011, but Mr. Putin began holding them again after returning to the presidency in 2012. The last time he opted out of the event as president was in 2005.
Often stretching to four hours or more, the December news conference has been one of the few times a year that reporters outside the Kremlin pool, including foreign correspondents, get the chance to ask Mr. Putin questions directly — if they are called on. (The Kremlin has questioned reporters ahead of time about what they might be inclined to ask.)
The ranks of journalists in Russia who are not subservient to the government are thinner than at any time since the fall of the Soviet Union, and this year the government criminalized criticism of the war or the military. Independent Russian news media have all either shut down or moved abroad, and many foreign news outlets have been forced out of the country.
Even so, it would have been possible for either a Russian or international reporter to detail some of the setbacks in Ukraine and to ask Mr. Putin embarrassing questions about them — live on national television.
Mr. Peskov noted that Mr. Putin “regularly speaks to the press, including on foreign visits,” but such exchanges are limited to the pool of reporters regularly assigned to the Kremlin.
Political analysts had various reactions, from suggesting Mr. Putin had no future vision to offer, to the idea that he was finding some of his customs monotonous. Tatiana Stanovaya, a political analyst, wrote on her Telegram channel that the cancellation was a sign that Mr. Putin did not want to engage with what he considered to be minor domestic matters or to answer boring or routine questions.
Mikhail Vinogradov, the political scientist who heads the St. Petersburg Politics Foundation, said the move contributed to a general sense of stagnation in the country. Even though a lot is happening, he said, calling off the event captures the feeling of “the situation on pause.”
Mr. Putin has tried to present life in Russia as business as usual for most people, an image that has become harder to maintain. Thousands of troops have been killed or wounded, which generally goes unmentioned in state media. A mismanaged call-up of about 300,000 military conscripts this fall prompted demonstrations and spurred thousands of men to flee the country; Ukrainian officials predict that another Russian draft is coming soon.
A news conference could expose Mr. Putin to questions about casualties, conscription or specific battlefield setbacks like the strike against Wagner or the retreat last month from the captured city of Kherson, a significant reversal that prompted anger and anguish among some of Russia’s war hawks. But Mr. Putin has continued to insist that the war in Ukraine is going according to plan.
The annual news conferences usually unroll in a circuslike atmosphere, with reporters waving signs containing some of Mr. Putin’s signature phrases, or wearing costumes from their native regions, in the hopes of catching his eye and getting to ask a question. The sessions are a set piece on his calendar, a chance for Mr. Putin to display his command of the facts affecting all aspects of Russian life, and ostensibly, to show him as being receptive to all queries.
Mr. Putin prefers scripted events, however, and in the past week he made several highly choreographed public appearances aimed at reinforcing his version of reality, at a time when a Russian victory in Ukraine appears as distant as ever. Those televised events presented Mr. Putin as a decisive leader, still fully in charge.