Communication with Russian citizens, or rather, Vladimir Putin’s staged solo performance, is primarily aimed at "processing" the minds of Russian voters ahead of the 2018 presidential elections. Therefore, it is not at all surprising that too many questions just could not be voiced. But we can try to fill this gap a little, by collecting a few topics that seemed to be inconvenient for Putin or those he chose to "not notice" or ignore.

"We will address this one for sure." Putin opted for this phrase a lot when answering the questions asked by Russian citizens during his “Direct Line” Q&A on June 15. Those who wished to “bow and ask their Tsar” were probably satisfied with the several-hour "communication", Putin’s traditional “gopnik” [street thug]-style jokes and petty claims that Russia is stronger than ever and is just about ready to win on all fronts. Of course, it’s sad that some 13.5% of Russians trying to survive under poverty line may not live to see Russia great again, but the situation is recoverable since Russian economy is re-emerging from crisis thanks to the "wise leader," and – you do remember, right? – it was all much worse in the 90's, and we’ve made it somehow anyway...

At the same time, it all looked like a poorly-directed, staged act. Even more so, against the background of live streams from shabby barracks and trailers, where many Russians are still forced to live in the 21st century and where, it seems, it was only due to the arrival of the TV crews that the utility services finally managed to remove fecal stalactites from basements. At the same time, in addition to utility issues, low salaries and pensions (which Putin says causes indignation as it is "nonsense" and "gibberish", and which he will personally address) as well as high prices (even import substitution are of no help), Russians were traditionally interested in issues related to gays in Europe, knowledge of Russian literature by the Ukrainian president and, in general, the establishment of a new world order where Russia would be one of the major geopolitical players.

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No matter how much Putin sneers at allegations about staged questions, the latter were in the main focus of the whole address

It turned out that instead of specific recipes by the Russian president, who has amassed all power in the country, on how Russians should survive with their beggarly salaries, gravely poor utility services, healthcare, and education, and the lack of an adequate law enforcement and judicial systems, Vladimir Putin spoke about growing production, restoration of the "missile industry, aircraft construction, radio electronics, and heavy engineering," raised wheat exports, and the search for new markets for Russian meat in China.

Therefore, no matter how much Putin sneers at allegations about staged questions, the latter were in the main focus of the whole address. For example, the father of a rookie conscript, who quite by chance was at that moment taking a pledge of allegiance somewhere at his military base, was not interested in whether his son would be deployed to die in the Ukrainian Donbas or Middle East, instead asking the president what "lessons" Russia’s armed forces have learned from their Syrian campaign. Putin’s answer was: "In Syria, we tried out in combat our latest arms systems... This is a very valuable experience."

But, no matter how hard the Russian Federation tries to "establish a peaceful process for the conflict settlement," it does incur losses in Syria. But Vladimir Putin preferred to evade this topic.

Similarly, the president of the Russian Federation eluded the answer about Russian opposition and protests. Not a word has been said about the recent rallies of truckers who had declared an all-Russian strike back in March, or thousands of detainees in Moscow and St. Petersburg protests this Monday. Probably, they all just don’t exist in Vladimir Putin’s world. At the same time, the Russian president believes that the opposition, which "speculates on problems," has no right to dialogue with the authorities. He suggests that it is only possible to speak with those who "offer solutions." He didn’t say though, whether such people exist and who they are.

The Russian president forgot to mention how exactly gay people are being prosecuted in Chechnya and explain to the Russians how come the LGBT refugees from Grozny started surfacing in Moscow.

Putin chose the same style when addressing the questions about “kompromat,” the discrediting and compromising material in the media and internet in relation to Russian officials. The hint at Navalny’s prominent investigative report targeting Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev is obvious. But the Russia president stated that this could be a dirty media spin, of which there are plenty these days. Moreover, "the internet is often used for political squabbles." Therefore, any information needs to be verified "and final conclusions have to be made only on based on objective data". In other words, all complaints by Russian citizens against corrupt officials can as well go down the drain… If there is an untouchable prime minister, "Dimon", then the others shouldn’t be afraid of any allegations either.

It seems that another painful issue for Putin is LGBT. It is not for the first time that the president of the Russian Federation tries to shame this topic, grimacing at the word "gay." Putin even said Ukraine needs to be cautious with EU visa liberalization, because “Europe has more gays than we do.” "He better not relax. He should watch out," Putin said, addressing Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, when commenting on his earlier visa-free speech. "We hold nothing against you," Putin added to gay people, apparently considering it very witty. "Good luck to you, especially with the ‘rookies’," he said, which was followed by a good laugh from the audience. And, obviously, Putin liked this kind of reaction of the Russian public. It's a shame though that at the same time the Russian president forgot to mention how exactly gay people are being prosecuted in Chechnya and explain to the Russians how come the LGBT refugees from Grozny started surfacing in Moscow. Of course, it's much easier to have a laugh at this "European phenomenon," and keep terminating Russian members of LGBT community, pretending that they simply do not exist in Russia.

Tatiana Urbanskaya