By Andrew Osborn
MOSCOW (Reuters) – Vladimir Putin, on a living standards drive at the start of a new presidential term, is expected to try to fix Russians’ everyday problems on live TV later on Thursday, handing out real-time orders to regional governors and government ministers.
Putin, who won a landslide re-election victory in March, has taken part in the annual phone-in since 2001, using it to cast himself as a decisive troubleshooter on the home front and as a staunch defender of Russia’s interests on the world stage.
Critics say the event, which is being held days before Russia hosts the soccer World Cup, is a stage-managed piece of theater designed to let Russians let off steam and fleetingly feel like they can influence a bureaucratic top-down system. Putin and his aides say it is an indispensable tool to gauge public sentiment and learn what people’s real problems are.
The 65-year-old politician used the event last year to pledge to eradicate spiraling poverty, fielding almost 70 questions in just under four hours in an event that Kremlin watchers often liken to a tsar listening to his petitioners.
This year, the Interfax news agency reported Putin would forego his usual studio audience, field text and video questions on a series of TV monitors, and hand out real time orders to regional governors and government ministers who have been told to be at their desks when the event starts at 0900 GMT.
Members of the public have submitted over 1.4 million questions, Russian news agencies reported, many of them visible on a special website set up for the event.
Questions posted ahead of the event included asking Putin whether he planned to meet U.S. President Donald Trump this year, whether relations with the West would improve anytime soon, how he planned to reduce poverty, and why petrol prices were rising so fast.
Putin, who is at the start of a new six-year term in office, always fields a smattering of foreign policy questions which he typically uses to lash out at the West with whom Moscow’s relations are at a post Cold War low.
This year, he is expected to focus more heavily on domestic issues since he has said the main priority of his fourth term is raising living standards by sharply increasing social and infrastructure spending.
(Editing by William Maclean)