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Putin Says He Hopes For Better U.S.-Russia Relations


Russian President Vladimir Putin held his annual marathon press conference today. He's gone through this routine a dozen times before. They're always long. Today's event lasted almost four hours. Putin invites both Russian and foreign journalists to ask him anything. But with more than 1,600 reporters present, their chances of getting a question in are slim. NPR's Lucian Kim wanted to know what Russians thought of the televised spectacle. But first, he sat through the whole thing.


LUCIAN KIM, BYLINE: Journalists jumped to their feet, and some even clapped when Putin strode onto the stage. Putin has gone through this routine a dozen times, but today it took him a while to warm up. After 18 years in power, his opinions are well-known, including his views on alleged collusion between the Russian government and Donald Trump's presidential campaign.



KIM: "It's all an invention," Putin said, "by people who are opposed to Trump and are trying to taint his administration." He said spy mania in Washington is preventing the U.S. and Russia from normalizing relations. But he's on a first-name basis with Trump, he says, so he's still holding out hope. As for tensions in North Korea, Putin said it was a good signal that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson wants to start direct talks with Pyongyang. Putin was in his element when asked about foreign policy. But with a presidential election only three months away, that's not what most of the Russian journalists at the press conference wanted to talk about. They raised issues like taxes, health care, education and garbage disposal. That resonated on the streets of Moscow.

VALERY MELNIKOV: (Speaking Russian).

KIM: Valery Melnikov used to work in construction. He says Putin is too focused on geopolitics instead of helping ordinary people.

IRINA KUZNETSOVA: I hope that he knows everything about the situation in the pockets of the common people, that the pockets are now with a big hole and the hole is getting bigger and bigger.

KIM: Irina Kuznetsova is a retired English teacher. Even though she's worried about her pension, Kuznetsova says she'll vote for Putin because nobody else can get the job done.

KUZNETSOVA: Everyone knows what is wrong in the system (laughter). But everyone doesn't know how to change and to correct it.

KIM: According to a poll published this week, 61 percent of Russians would vote for Putin. The opposition says that's because he doesn't allow any real competitors to run. One surprise at the press conference was the appearance of Ksenia Sobchak. She's a pro-Western liberal who plans to challenge Putin in the election.


KSENIA SOBCHAK: (Speaking Russian).

KIM: Sobchak asked if the government is afraid of fair political competition.


PUTIN: (Speaking Russian).

KIM: Putin answered, of course not. It's just that the opposition must come up with a positive agenda, or else Russia could face a street revolution like in neighboring Ukraine. That's exactly why Arsen Grodsky, the head of a driving school, loves Putin so much. He's from Crimea, which Russia seized from Ukraine in 2014.

ARSEN GRODSKY: (Speaking Russian).

KIM: Grodsky says Putin saved Crimea and brought it home to Russia. And he plans to spend the evening watching Putin's press conference on the Internet. Lucian Kim, NPR News, Moscow.

(SOUNDBITE OF IV THE POLYMATH'S "BLUEBERRY SPY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lucian Kim is NPR's international correspondent based in Moscow. He has been reporting on Europe and the former Soviet Union for the past two decades.