MOSCOW, 25 April (RIA Novosti) - President Vladimir Putin is set to hold his 11th question and answer session with the Russian public on Thursday.
The previous 10 live Q&A sessions, held in 2001-2003 and 2005-2011, in which he took part as president and then as prime minister, lasted more than 40 hours in total and included about a hundred live stand-ups from cities and strategic enterprises.
During those sessions, Putin answered almost 700 questions, requests and complaints and following which he issued hundreds of instructions and launched dozens of investigations.
RIA Novosti has compiled a list of ten facts about the past Q&A sessions.
1. The same old questions
The first question ever asked in this format was about housing and utility rates, which was posed by a man from Vladivostok. This has proved to be the most popular topic during subsequent sessions.
Judging by this, Russians are chiefly concerned about social services and social security, housing and utilities prices and jobs and wages.
Putin’s Q&A sessions have seen numerous people complain about the actions or inaction of the authorities, often inviting Putin to visit their cities and even suggesting their own solutions.
Putin is often asked personal questions, for example about his dreams, his understanding of happiness, his vacations, what he considers his negative traits to be, the most difficult decisions he has had to take, whether he has ever ordered the execution of traitors, if he has a body double, and whether he would want to live forever.
2. A new record every year
The very first Q&A session, held in 2001, lasted two and a half hours. One hour longer than the hour and a half planned, and each of the subsequent sessions has been longer still.
The 2009 session lasted for more than four hours. In 2010, he talked with people for four hours and 26 minutes, and in 2011 he set a new record, four and a half hours.
3. Winter, fall, winter and finally, spring
For the first three years, the Q&A sessions were held in December. The next three sessions were held in the fall (September and October), and for three years from 2009 he again spoke with the people in December.
After that the decision was made to move the session to a warmer season. “Considering our climate, we have decided to hold the Q&A sessions in a warmer season,” his press secretary Dmitry Peskov said.
4. From an Air Force base to a drilling rig
Previous Q&A sessions saw questions coming from almost all Russia’s regions. The westernmost cities that took part in live stand-ups were Kaliningrad and Baltiysk on the Baltic Sea, the easternmost cities were Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, Komsomolsk-on-Amur, Vladivostok and Nakhodka on the Pacific Coast, the northernmost cities were Vorkuta and Murmansk and the southernmost cities were Botlikh and Kaspiysk in Dagestan and Grozny, the capital city of Chechnya.
Live stand-ups were organized not only from cities and towns but also from strategic facilities such as the Plesetsk space center in the Arkhangelsk Region and the Kant Air Force base in Kyrgyzstan, and also from industrial sites, such as Drilling Rig 504 of the Vostochno-Surgutskoye oilfield or the Chernigovsky open-pit mine in the city of Berezovsky in the Kemerovo Region.
The choice of location has sometimes been linked to events taking place in the country. For example, one of the places where a live stand-up was organized in December 2009 was the engine room of the Sayano-Shushenskaya hydroelectric power plant in Khakassia, Siberia, which was badly damaged in August 2009, and Pikalyovo, a city in northwest Russia whose survival depends on a single employer, where jobless people blocked a federal road in the summer of 2009.
5. Is this really you?
There have been several mishaps during these live broadcasts, for example in 2007, when a woman who phoned the studio demanded that they let her talk with Putin himself. “Yes, good afternoon,” Putin said. “Is this you?” the woman asked. “Yes it’s me, good afternoon,” the president said. “Is this really you?” the woman asked again. She clearly did not believe that she was speaking with the president. “Yes, really.” “And before that, it was also you?” The woman still did not believe him. “Yes, it was me before, too,” Putin said. “Oh goodness, thank you very much. Thank you for everything,” the woman said and replaced the receiver.
“She did not even ask her question,” the anchor said.
The clip with that phone call immediately became extremely popular online and was even downloaded as a ringtone.
6. Putin gets angry...
One of the most high-profile issues concerned water supply in a village in the Stavropol Territory in southern Russia. A pensioner from the village of Degtyaryovsky was featured twice during the Q&A sessions. In 2003, she complained that they have no centralized water supply in the village, and in 2005, Putin quoted from a newspaper in which the same pensioner said that they still had no water. Putin added that candidates were being nominated for the post of governor of the Stavropol Territory and that the incumbent governor would not be nominated unless he resolved the problem. Equipment was sent to lay water pipes in the village the very next day.
7. …and makes jokes
Putin has made people smile quite a few times during the past Q&A sessions, which he held both as president and as prime minister, replying to some very serious questions with a joke.
In 2008, someone asked: “The mess in the country starts with elections, don't you think?” Putin replied: “Which country do you mean?” When asked why central television channels do not broadcast morning exercises, he replied with an ominous smile: “I think because their bosses feel perfectly fit.”
In 2009, one of the callers asked: “Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has been very critical of you recently. But you have not responded. Why?” Putin replied: “Maybe it's a sign of love?”
He was not so pleasant about his Georgian counterpart, Mikheil Saakashvili. A caller from Penza asked: “Is it true you said you were going to hang Saakashvili by the balls” after what happened in South Ossetia in August 2008? Putin replied, “And why not?”
8. What about that granny?
Some callers asked Putin to help other people. In 2009, a woman called from the Murmansk Region to complain that no one seemed to have helped an old woman who “had given all her blankets and clothes to the victims” of the Nevsky Express accident. “I have a hunch that the track was mended, the workers went away and no one bothered to mend the old woman's house and fence. I wish somebody could help her,” the caller said.
“You have a kind heart, like that woman. Don't worry, she will be all right, and her house will be repaired,” Putin replied. “The president of Russian Railways reported to me that he had personally met her and her modest pension will be doubled at the expense of Russian Railways and it will be for life,” he said.
9. Boy asks about pensions
Some questions have been asked by children. In 2009, a 12-year-old boy asked Putin what his pension would be in the year 2050.
Then Prime Minister Putin replied: “Smart kid. He is 12 years old now, he'll turn 50 in 2050, he won't yet be eligible for retirement, but he is already thinking about pensions. As you remember, the Dragonfly from Ivan Krylov's fable danced all summer long and thus had no food in winter. Consequently, we must think about the winter season in summer, so as to avoid problems.”
10. The president and prime minister take turns sleeping
At the end of the Q&A session in 2010, Putin said, in response to a question about who governs the country when he and the president are asleep: “We take turns sleeping. Don't worry, everything is under control.”
When asked how long he usually sleeps, he replied that he sleeps long enough to be able to answer questions.