Putin's press event, an annual tradition going back to 2001, is well-known for its atmosphere of levity, which helps soften some of the more serious policy questions discussed. This year's presser was no exception.
Right off the bat, thinking that one journalist wanted to accentuate her question with a provocative poster, Putin gave the floor to a young Tatar reporter with a sign reading 'Putin Babai', which he misread as 'Putin bye bye'. The reporter explained that 'Babai' means 'grandpa' in Tatar, and that she had a question about minority languages in Russia's schools.
"Oh I see, babai. 'The monkey's eyes have become weak in old age'. Please excuse me," Putin responded, quoting from the popular Russian fable The Monkey and the Spectacles.
"Someone is holding a sign 'Putin bye-bye'" Putin says.— Alec Luhn (@ASLuhn) December 14, 2017
It actually says "Putin babai," or "Grandpa Putin." 1st joke of the press conference pic.twitter.com/bPIsPVKgOS
Dagger for a Watch
Responding to a question about whether Russia should cut defense spending and devote more resources to the social sphere instead, Putin recalled a pair of anecdotes:
"You know we have a well-known joke – that those who do not want to feed their own army will end up feeding someone else's. But it's quite old…I can tell you another one…it's more up-to-date: A former officer's son walks up to his father, and the father asks 'Son, I had a dagger here. Have you seen it?' The boy responds: 'Pop, don't get mad. I traded it for a watch from a boy from the house next door.' 'Show me,' the father says, and takes a look. 'This is a nice watch, well done,' he says, adding 'You know, tomorrow some gangsters and robbers will come to our house, kill me and your mother, rape your older sister, and then you can come out and say 'Good evening, Moscow time is 12:30 pm.''"
Only Chechens Can Travel to Syria on Foot
A humorous exchange took place between Putin and Arslan Khasavov, a Chechen-born journalist who traveled around independently in Syria to get a glimpse of Russia's military bases in the country and see the sights.
"I was the first Russian that came by foot to the Hmeymim airbase, someone who worked there told me," Khasavov told the president. "That's dangerous. Where are you from? Not from Dagestan, by chance?" Putin asked. "I was born in Chechnya, but that's another story," Khasavov answered. "Only Chechens can travel there on foot," the president quipped.
Lazy Bearded Man
Fielding a question from liberal opposition figure Ksenia Sobchak, who earlier announced her plans to run for president in 2018, about what the Kremlin "fears" from Russia's "honest opposition," Putin responded that neighboring Ukraine was a good example of what shouldn't be done.
"Competition should be taking place, of course, and it will; the question is about radicalism," Putin said. "What is democracy? It is the subject of a rather serious and deep discussion. The Russian government isn't afraid of anyone, and never was. But the government shouldn't look like a bearded peasant lazily picking cabbage out of his beard and watches as the state turns into a muddy puddle that oligarchs try to catch a golden fish from."
The state should not be like a bearded man, who plucks out cabbage out of his beard and looks at how the state turns into a puddle that oligarchs are trying to get a golden fish from – Putin about the opposition and Ukraine #PutinPresser— Ivan Nechepurenko (@INechepurenko) December 14, 2017
'I am Ukrainian'
"How can you continue putting up with this?" he asked. "This is a man who was the president of independent Georgia, is now running around the squares [of Kiev] and yelling to the whole world: 'I am Ukrainian'. What, are there no real Ukrainians left in Ukraine? And Ukraine puts up with this. It's a shame to look at all this, it breaks my heart."
GPS Attached to Cows
Traditionally, questions for the president from regional journalists have often revolved around odd or unexpected problems. This year, one such question came from a reporter in Kurgan region, who explained that a local farmer faces criminal charges…for illegally attaching GPS trackers to livestock.
The Putin press conference question on attaching GPS trackers to cows makes sense, you never know where your cow could end up. pic.twitter.com/xlbI8ieFQb— Mike Lee (@AgronomyUkraine) December 14, 2017
Putin is being asked about the legality of GPS trackers from China being attached to cows by Russian farmers. Then again, we're now 3 hours 19 minutes into this news conference so I might be hallucinating.— Alastair Jamieson (@alastairjam) December 14, 2017
Putin admitted that had no idea what the man was talking about, but promised to get to the bottom of things. "I know that cats even get GPS and GLONASS trackers attached so that they don't get lost," the president said. "I don't understand what the problem is when it comes to cows. Or maybe the farmer didn't pay, or made the tracker under the table somehow. This should probably be regulated somehow, and I will try to work on that."
Sign of the Cross
Maria Volynkina, a journalist from the internet portal 'Gifted Children', surprised Putin with an impromptu joke about giving birth to "his baby," "a talented and gifted child," referring to the fact that the president personally supported the creation of the website at his press conference back in 2014.
Glad to hear it, Putin replied with a joke of his own, making the sign of the cross and quipping "Thank God. It's all from God."