Each December, on the New Year’s eve, Vladimir Putin holds a big performance. It is called "a press conference of the President of Russia". The script is the same, the composition of the participants is also almost unchanged. A special feature of the event lies is that the journalists beyond the Kremlin pool have the only chance to ask Putin a question. Topics vary greatly: from ridiculously local issues to the U.S. presidential elections. This year, the annual press conference was rather boring. In fact, there has been no actual news over the four hours of Q&A. The main focus was on the internal policy and the economy.

The Russian president once again tried to instill the idea that Crimea is – and has always been – Russian

Putin looked a little weary and complacent, but this time he did not joke around much. He also chose to not answer the question regarding the prospects of his possible presidential nomination.

The Ukrainian question came up as if by accident. The Russian president once again tried to instill the idea that Crimea is – and has always been – Russian. Speaking about the success of the integration of the occupied peninsula into the Russian realities, Putin recalled the "construction of the century" of a bridge across the Kerch Strait linking the occupied peninsula with mainland Russia. It turns out that this “wonder”, someday, sooner or later, will be very useful for the Russian-Ukrainian commercial and cultural ties. Among other “success stories” was integrating Crimean gas transport system with Russian pipelines by Chornomornaftogaz – the company brazenly stolen from Ukraine. According to the Russian leader, this fact will also contribute to "normalization" of relations.

It seemed that Putin was not really willing to elaborate on Ukraine issues, but it was also very difficult for him to completely ignore the topic. After all, Russian aggression against Ukraine has forever changed the relations between the two countries and strained Russian ties with the West: the revision of European borders, moreover with military means, is an opened Pandora's box.

It seems the Kremlin has found the “solution”: to pretend that the problem simply does not exist. And for the Crimean issue not to come up on top agenda, the Russians continue shooting in Donbas. This is a kind of cunning scheme to cover up what has been stolen: there is a hot spot in Ukraine, so no one will discuss the status of the Crimean peninsula.

As the only Ukrainian journalist at the press conference, I was able to ask a question about Ukraine. On the most important issue, Putin decided not to comment, while the question was as direct as possible: Does the Russian leadership understand that the Russians will forever remain invaders for the Ukrainians?

Instead of explaining, how exactly the Minsk agreements provide for deploying the Russians in Donbas to resolve "military issues" (which means the recognition of direct military intervention) the Russian president has decided to dismiss the question by saying that "it would be great to make sure that the Ukrainian army in Donbas was not considered invaders in their own country."

In fact, everyone’s already familiar with the Kremlin's classic scheme. They put local collaborators in the avant-garde of combined forces' ranks, at the same time denying presence of regular troops: Russian soldiers are "on leave", all tank crews are “volunteers”, while fuel and ammunition were "found" in local warehouses - we all heard that a hundred times.

However, such blatant lie only cements the definition of "Russian invaders", while the situation is escalating with every morning report coming from the Eastern Front.

Putin never gives up on his fellow FSB officers, even if they are criminals

Besides, the list of Kremlin’s hostages from among the Ukrainian citizens is constantly growing. The FSB-appointed "Crimean terrorists" Yevgeny Panov and Andriy Zakhtey after they were transferred to the Lefortovo detention center, filed through their new lawyers a complaint on horrific torture they had undergone when the law enforcers forced guilty pleas out of them.

Putin never gives up on his fellow FSB officers, even if they are criminals. In a normal country, allegations of violence, at least, implies an internal investigation. In the case of Panov, for example, it would be enough to show the uncut video of his "confession." That’s because a five-minute clip released by the FSB has been shamelessly edited. One can only guess what has been done to Panov during the scenes that have been cut. On the other hand, if Panov and Zakhtey are such experienced and sophisticated saboteurs with almost a tonne of explosives at their disposal, why they were they first detained for a drunken brawl at a train station in Simferopol? Can’t the FSB decide whether they are the “Ukrainian 007” or merely the offenders of public order?!

The scariest thing is that, if Putin states categorically that the Ukrainians have not been tortured or beaten, then it means that turns a blind eye to such methods, so they can be further applied - and not only to the Ukrainians, but to the Russians as well. One should recall the case of Ildar Dadin…

On December 2, internationally acclaimed Russian film director Alexander Sokurov appealed to Putin for the release of Oleh Sentsov. Realizing that in Russia it would be pointless to appeal to the law and common sense in this type of cases, Sokurov used such words as: "I have a heartfelt  request", "I am begging you to find a solution to this problem", " Mercy is above justice in Russia, in Christianity. I am begging you. Mercy is above justice", "Help". Putin refused.

Appealing to Vladimir Putin with a similar request to release Ukrinform correspondent Roman Sushchenko, I harbored no illusions that it could somehow shake the Russian leader. Any other question would boil down to the idea that "the most humane Russian court will deal with it." But I could not but ask. Putin's answer has once again confirmed that the Russians are invaders for the Ukrainians.

Roman Tsymbaliuk, Moscow