Sputnik has talked about the session to Fred Weir, Russia's correspondent for the Boston-based Christian Science Monitor.
Sputnik: What’s your general impression of today’s Direct Line session?
Fred Weir: As always, Mr Putin was extremely well-prepared and provided very capable answers to an exhausting range of questions. I do not believe that these programs are minutely stage-managed, as some people claim, but they do tend to concentrate on issues the Kremlin considers most important at this time. In this case, it was domestic economic and social problems, and how the government is attempting to tackle them.
This took the form of Mr Putin coming face-to-face with people from all over the country who voice specific -- yet quite representative -- grievances, and his efforts to explain how the general problem, as well as the specific one, is being addressed. Of course, this method has no Western analogue; at least I can't think of any other country where the head of state feels responsible to deal with every little problem, from drinking water in some Siberian village, to the problems of pollution caused by a chicken farm in some other remote place. But his performance is always impressive.
Vladimir Putin has suggested that the US will keep trying to deter Russia as a global economic rival, citing the US crackdown on Huawei as an example of similar policies. In your opinion, how might the US’ attitude towards Russia and China shape the world order?
It does seem that the US is trying to impose its own version of global order, making ever-wider use of economic tools like sanctions, and more-and-more countries are feeling the bite. As Mr Putin himself noted, Russia has been under virtual geopolitical siege for 5 years now, and he suggested a variety of ways it has suffered from and learned to adjust to this situation, in order to survive and return to growth. I don't think that the conflict between the US and China is the same as the West's efforts to isolate Russia, but there are commonalities. Russia and China are being pushed together, made to seek common geopolitical ground and economic solutions. Yes, I think this could change the shape of the world order in the next decade or so.
Putin says he is ready to engage in dialogue with Trump when Washington is prepared, but the launch of the US presidential campaign complicates relations. How will the whole ‘Russiagate’ rhetoric play out and affect future US elections?
I don't think things will improve in the Russia-US relationship in the foreseeable future. The whole #Russiagate story is a symptom of deeper problems -- profound social and political divisions in the US -- and it will not go away any time soon. Indeed, there is every reason to fear that it will get worse.
Mr Putin has also said that Russia has been forced to react to the recent reports that the US has targeted Russia's power grid with electronic attacks by planting malware in Russian systems. What’s your take on the NYT report?
I read the NYT story with disbelief. Normally, these kinds of espionage operations are never even hinted about in public, much less leaked to a major newspaper, to be splashed all over the front page. I think the danger of cyberwar is very real, and I wish the big powers would sit down and discuss ways to limit and control it -- as they did with the threat of nuclear weapons a generation ago. But I suspect this particular story should be read with deep scepticism.
Regarding the recent escalations in the Gulf of Oman with oil tankers, Putin said that US military action against Iran will lead to a catastrophe. In your point of view, how can this current escalation be resolved?
Almost everyone in the world seems to agree with Mr Putin that war against Iran would be catastrophic for all concerned. Yet, as so often happens, we seem to be sleepwalking into such a conflict. The biggest problem here, since the US unilaterally pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal, is that big powers are no longer in agreement about how to deal with Iran and able to cooperate on measures to reduce tensions. If Russia, China and the US could sit down and develop a common approach to problems like this, the world would probably become a much safer place.
The views expressed in this article are solely those of the speaker and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Sputnik.