The Putin telethon

Posted By Joshua Keating

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin conducted his annual telethon today, taking call-in questions for more than four and a half hours.

Putin managed to make a bit of news during the program, offering praise to Belarus' authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko ahead of this weekend's election. The relationship between the former allies had grown sour over the last couple of years due to a dispute over energy pricing as well Lukashenko's refusal to recognize the breakaway republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia and his tentative overtures to Europe. Russian state television had begun airing documentaries about state corruption and human rights abuses in Belarus and President Medvedev even played bad cop for once, recording a video message, accusing Lukashenko of "hysterical" anti-Russian rhetoric.

But Lukashenko traveled to Moscow last week for energy talks and the hatchet has apparently been buried for now:

"Whatever our relations with the Belarussian leadership -- and there have been sparks from time to time -- (the) ... Belarussian leadership has taken a clear course towards integration with Russia," Putin said.

Putin also promised that Russia could supply 20-21 million tons of oil to Belarus next year. While the result of the election is hardly in doubt, a more positive relationship with Russia is certainly in the interest of Lukashenko, who has faced widespread protests after previous polls.

Putin also had some words for his longtime nemesis Mikhail Khodorkovsky, whose trial was recently delayed yet again:

Asked whether the imprisonment of Mikhail B. Khodorkovsky, the former oil baron, was justified, Mr. Putin gave a caustic answer, quoting a song by the beloved singer Vladimir Vysotsky.

"A thief should sit in jail," he said. He compared Mr. Khodorkovsky's case to that of Bernard L. Madoff, who received a 150-year sentence for the largest Ponzi scheme in Wall Street history.

Putin also suggested that Ukraine join a post-Soviet trade bloc along with Kazakhstan and Belarus, predicted a World Cup-related economic boost, and was once again coy about the fate of the spy who turned in the 10 Russian sleeper agents in the United States:

[Putin said] Russia has abandoned the Soviet-era practice of killing turncoats.

"Russia's special services don't do that," he said during a televised call-in show. "As for the traitors, they will croak all by themselves. Whatever equivalent of 30 pieces of silver they get, it will get stuck in their throats."

The best Putin-being-Putin moment may have been a response to a question about who runs the country when both he and Medvedev are asleep:

"We take turns sleeping," he said.


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