During his yearly call-in show on Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin offered political asylum to ex-FBI Director James Comey and accused the U.S of interfering with other countries.
“It looks weird when the chief of a security agency records his conversation with the commander-in-chief and then hands it over to media via his friend,” Putin said.”What’s the difference then between the FBI director and Mr Snowden?”
“In that case, he’s more of a rights campaigner defending a certain position than the security agency chief,” the Russian President continued. “It makes him not a security service director, but a civil activist advocating a certain belief.
“By the way, if he faces any kind of prosecution in this regard, we will provide political asylum in Russia for him as well. He should be aware of that,” Putin added as members of the audience visibly chuckled in the background. Good one, Puts.
Putin is becoming increasingly frustrated with allegations that Russia interfered in the 2016 U.S. election and used the call-in show to reaffirm his position.
He called the allegation a result of “political infighting” and said that Comey had given “no evidence” to back up the claims. He also accused the U.S. of meddling elsewhere.
“Turn a globe and point your finger anywhere, you will find American interests will lie there,” he said. “And there is surely their interference there. I know this from talks actually with all the heads of state. They do not want to quarrel with the Americans and no one directly speaks about this.”
It is well-known that the televised show is choreographed, with the Kremlin screening callers and making sure Putin gets a dose of “softballs” mixed in with serious questions.
For the most part, the questions this year focused on the economy, with Putin telling the audience that Russia had bounced back from recession in the face of ongoing sanctions.
Perhaps the biggest softball of the night came from one man who asked “What is the largest fish you have ever caught?”, to which Putin replied “20 kilograms.”
Although the show was tightly controlled, there may have been at least one major hiccup.
The Guardian notes that rather strangely, a graphic featuring written questions appeared at the bottom right of the screen at one point. These questions asked things like “Putin, do you really think that people believe in this circus with staged questions?”. According to The Guardian, it is unclear if these were shown deliberately or were the result of a production error.
Putin did not directly answer a question which asked whether or not he would run for president again next year. Recently, opposition protests have taken place in Moscow and Alexei Navalny, a vocal opponent of Putin, has announced that he will run in 2018. In true Russia style, Navalny has been arrested for organising an “unsanctioned rally” and jailed for 30 days. He better be careful or he might “have an accident” while in jail.
Putin may have kidded around a bit during the call-in show, but running against him would be no joke.