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    Putin's 2017 Annual Year-End Press Conference (6)
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    Putin is holding his annual press conference for the 13th time, however, this year is likely to stand out, as the presidential election is approaching in Russia.

    MOSCOW (Sputnik) — Russian President Vladimir Putin’s news conference, slated for Thursday, is likely to shift public attention from the foreign to the domestic agenda and will possibly hail a start to the election debates, as some journalists could ask "uncomfortable" questions and engage in polemics with Putin, experts told Sputnik.

    The news conference, experts believe, will mainly focus on issues such as wage increases, pensions, healthcare, and demography policy.

    READ MORE: Putin to Hold Annual Press Conference December 14 — Kremlin

    Election Questions

    According to political scientist Alexander Konkov, this year’s conference will be different from the previous ones because of the "election questions."

    "Messages will be heard that will mainly be connected to the target population groups on which the president intends to stake in his election campaign," Konkov said.

    There will still be a lot of questions on foreign policy, especially regarding the end of the military operation in Syria and the crisis in Ukraine, but the press conference will become "a starting point for gradually shifting attention from the external political agenda to the domestic one," Konkov added.

    "Because an election campaign involves answers to questions that people living in the country care about," he explained.

    READ MORE: President Vladimir Putin's Highlights in Office

    Head of the regional projects of the Expert Institute of Social Studies Andrei Kolyadin believes that the issue of Russia’s ban from the 2018 Winter Olympics will also be raised during the news conference.

    "Initially, Vladimir Putin … said that the athletes must not suffer. Therefore I believe that the record will be set straight during this press conference," the expert noted.

    Alexei Makarkin of the Center for Political Technologies (CPT) agreed that domestic issues will be the main topic of the news conference.

    "Of course, there is the issue of most of the Russian personnel’s withdrawal from Syria, there are other hot topics, but if we look at what has priority for the citizens, then internal [issues] prevail. These are the issues connected to wages, prices, pensions, healthcare … maybe there will be questions on demographic initiatives," Makarkin said.

    Start of Debates

    Director General of the Center for Political Information Alexey Mukhin believes that during the news conference it will become clear whether Putin will run for the presidency as an independent candidate or as a representative of a party.

    "This throws in additional intrigue, because the start of the debates between these, let me say, potential candidates will be given at this news conference," Mukhin added noting that TV host Ksenia Sobchak, who also announced her intention to run for president, was accredited for the event.

    According to the expert, Sobchak will try to ask an "unpleasant" question, perhaps regarding the case of Russian film and theater director Kirill Serebrennikov, suspected of embezzling state funds and placed under house arrest.

    READ MORE: Top 5 Facts You Have to Know About Vladimir Putin

    "I believe she would not pass by this question, especially because Vladimir Putin will give a predictable answer because the investigative actions do not yet allow to open up the veil of secrecy. But Sobchak’s goal is to make Vladimir Putin embarrassed, she wants to get some hype on it," Mukhin explained.

    Makarkin, his turn, pointed out that Sobchak’s chances to be registered as a candidate will be influenced by whether or not she will be allowed to ask a question.

    "It will be an indicator of sorts whether or not she will be able to take part in the election campaign. So, if they give her the floor, her chances for registration increase considerably, and interest appears," he explained.

    Mikhail Vinogradov, the president of the Petersburg Policy fund, is convinced that Sobchak will ask her question.

    "Clearly, if she has been invited, she will be given the floor, it is absolutely clear … Basically, such quasi-debates would be useful, because one way or another, we do not remember Putin debating. Such element of debates would be useful, but it still does not mean Putin agrees to election debates with other candidates," the expert said.

    On December 6, Putin announced his decision to seek re-election in the 2018 presidential election. The vote is set to be held on March 18, and the election campaign is expected to begin later this month.

    The intention to participate in the vote was also voiced by the leader of Russia's Liberal Democratic Party Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the head of the Communist Party Gennady Zyuganov, TV host Ksenia Sobchak, Grigory Yavlinsky from the Democratic Yabloko party as well as businessman Sergei Polonsky and political scientist Andrei Bogdanov.

    Putin's 2017 Annual Year-End Press Conference (6)


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