On June 7th, Russian President Vladimir Putin held a 4-hour “hotline” during which he answered questions from people across Russia, including from Crimeans and refugees from Donbass.
This was a hotline with citizens (and residents), not journalists, so Putin spent the lion’s share of broadcasting time discussing domestic policy. But Putin also touched on the international agenda, and made several noteworthy statements about the situation in and around Ukraine. Strana.ua has gathered some of the most head-turning statements, which we have translated for our readers.
The “Ukrainian topic” was started when the Russian president was called live on air by the famous writer Zakhar Prilepin who recently went to fight as a volunteer in the Donetsk People’s Republic. Prilepin told the president of the exacerbated situation in Donbass and claimed that the Ukrainian army is preparing an offensive. Putin responded:
“I hope that provocations will not reach this point. If this happens, I think it will have very serious consequences for Ukrainian statehood as a whole. I would like to stress again that I hope that nothing like this will happen. The people who live in the areas in Donbass, in the Lugansk People’s Republic and Donetsk People’s Republic, cannot be intimidated. We provide aid to both unrecognized republics and will continue to do so.”
The head of the Kremlin also drew attention to the OSCE’s Special Monitoring Mission recording an increase in the number of Ukrainian attacks:
“Now OSCE representatives are recording an increase in attacks by Ukrainian forces. Why do this, when all that is necessary is to follow the Minsk Agreements? This is simply ridiculous considering that the expected result of such is the restoration of the country’s territorial integrity. The longer and further this goes on, the worse for Ukraine,” Putin said.
Putin proceeded to draw a connection between the escalation of the conflict in the region and pre-election fever in Ukraine. In his opinion, the Ukrainian authorities are actually kindling conflict in order to prevent these anti-Maidan electorates from returning to the Ukrainian legal field. In Putin’s words:
“Sometimes it seems to me that the situation is aggravated as Ukraine is entering a new political cycle with Rada and presidential elections. The current Ukrainian authorities are in no position to solve the ‘DPR and LPR problem’ partly because they do not need the voters from these regions, because they would clearly never vote for the current government. However, if the authorities are guided by their narrow political and economic interests, and if they continue to loot their people and save their money in offshore accounts in case things go bad, then nothing good will ever come.”
Putin was also posed questions about refugees from Donbass, on which he stressed the need to further liberalize the acquisition of Russian citizenship, which “has both a humanitarian and a democratic aspect”, and address matters concerning the employment of Donbass refugees. Then came Putin’s big answer: “This is a big tragedy, a tragedy of Ukraine and of the Ukrainian people and our compatriots…I consider Ukrainians and Russians to be practically the same people…”
On the note of citizenship and migration, Putin passed on to Russia’ demographic problem, saying:
“One of a few solutions to this problem for Russia is attracting our compatriots to Russia. Of course, this first and foremost concerns people regardless of nationality and religious affiliation, mainly those people who consider themselves to be connected to the Russian world by blood, knowing the Russian language, and who are interested in working in our country and have the corresponding competence. Hence why it is absolutely right that in this sphere, serious, cardinal measures must be adopted which, of course, take into account the interests of our citizens of the Russian Federation…”
In Putin’s words, the liberalization of citizenship procedures “first and foremost concerns Ukrainian citizens, no matter where they are and live.”
Finally, Putin commented on the possibility of exchanging the Ukrainian director Oleg Sentsov, who was sentenced to 20 years in prison in Russia for plotting acts of terrorism, for the journalist and head of RIA Novosti Ukraine, Kirill Vyshinsky, who was recently arrested by Kiev.
In Putin’s opinion, Vyshinsky was arrested for being a journalist, “But as for the other figure, Mr. Sentsov, he is arrested in Crimea not for journalism, but in fact for plotting an act of terrorism, an explosion as a result of which real people could have suffered. These are totally different things, they are different and incomparable. therefore, we have not thought about this [exchange idea].”
“I hope that we will achieve the release of the Russian journalist, including with the pressure of international organizations upon whom today’s Ukrainian authorities rely on in one way or another,” Putin added.
Putin’s “hotline” or “direct line” with Russians is an important institution of his presidency which he established the precedent for back in 2001. Since then, each year Putin has fielded a number of questions in these popular, open venues which offer a glimpse into the priorities and ideas of the Russian President in real time.
Putin’s emphatic statement on Ukrainian statehood facing “very serious consequences” and his emphasis that Russia will continue to support Donbass come at the same time that leading Ukraine experts have predicted both the collapse of Ukrainian statehood and the possibility of Russia engaging in a “show of force” to Ukraine ahead of the World Cup.