Russian President Vladimir Putin has used his annual call-in to assure citizens that he is trying to relieve their hardships. But he also took swipes at Turkey and suggested the "Panama Papers" leak was US espionage.
Putin hosted his annual call-in show to the nation on Thursday, where he railed against Western hypocrisy, especially when it comes to Turkey.
During the hour-long program, Putin accused Ankara of leading what was "practically a civil war" in the south, where the government has been fighting Kurdish extremists.
He said the international community was silent on the matter. "But they can't ignore Russia," he said.
Moscow-Ankara relations have been poisoned since last year when Turkey's air force downed a Russian warplane near the Syrian-Turkish border. Putin said Turkey remains unsafe for Russian tourists, given the instability brought on by a Kurdish insurrection and jihadist activity.
Yet Russia still considers Turkey a friendly nation but has "problems with some politicians who have behaved improperly," he said in an oblique reference to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
When a 12-year-old girl asked Putin if he saw Erdogan and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko drowning, who he would aid first, the president responded that: "If someone decided to get drowned, it's impossible to save him."
Putin addresses economic difficulties
Putin opened the show - in which he fielded questions from carefully screened callers - to reassure a woman in Siberia that the government would do more to improve the state of the Omsk region's roads.
Russians submitted more than 1 million questions to the presiden, ranging from economic troubles - inflation hit nearly 13 percent last year - to foreign policy. It didn't take long for Putin to use the platform to hit out at foreign powers and pledge that Russia would not be cowed by external pressure.
"They should not act from a position of strength, dictate imperial ambitions, but should act respectfully with all partners and of course Russia," he said.
Carefully screened citizens from across the nation were given a chance to pose their questions directly to the president
The Russian leader did appear mindful that much of the country faces economic hardship, largely due to Western sanctions over its military meddling in Ukraine.
An embargo on European foodstuffs also drove up prices, which hurt Russian consumers already reeling from a sinking currency that has hurt Putin's popularity at home.
"The rise in food prices is a temporary phenomenon. Prices will stabilize," Putin told one concerned caller.
Adopting a conciliatory tone, he said that Russia is not surrounded by adversaries and that a negotiated solution over the war in Syria is possible, holding out a prospective olive branch to Turkey.
Putin dismisses 'Panama Papers'
He also brushed aside investigative reports - fueled by an unprecedented data leak - that showed he had amassed billions of dollars in secret offshore accounts.
Putin called the "Panama Papers" reporting in the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper in Munich a "provocation" and suggested that the paper was serving the interests of the US investment bank Goldman Sachs and that the leak had come from US officials.
blc, jar/kms (AP, Reuters)