Russian President Vladimir Putin, seen here in November, fielded some 3 million calls during his 14th annual televised call-in. Questions ranged from Syria to his love life. Photo by David Silpa/UPI | License Photo
MOSCOW, April 14 (UPI) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin shared his thoughts on U.S. President Barack Obama -- he's "decent" -- the Panama Papers -- a "provocation" -- and his love life during a public question-and-answer session Thursday.
Putin fielded questions ranging from the serious to the silly in his annual Q&A with the public. He took credit for Syria's ability to recapture Palmyra from the Islamic State and said the strained relations with Turkey and the Ukraine could be shored up. He said Russia is always ready to retaliate against hostile forces.
"We must respond, or otherwise they will sit on our neck and whip us up," Putin said.
Speaking before a live audience, the Russian president received some 3 million phone calls. Some of the more interesting questions he received include:
Putin said the two countries have been able to cooperate on issues that include terrorism and the Iran nuclear deal, but also warned the United States against "speaking from the position of force, diktat and imperial ambitions."
Who would you save?
When asked by a 12-year-old who he would save first if drowning, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko or Turkish President Recep Erdogan, Putin remained coy: "If someone has decided to drown, it's probably already impossible to save them anyway. Though of course we are ready to reach out a helping hand to any of our partners, if they want it."
Putin expressed hope a U.S.- and Russian-brokered peace agreement in Syria will pave the way for a new constitution and stability in the region. He said the Syrian army is in a "strong position" despite the Russian military draw down. "We didn't just leave and abandon everything. After the withdrawal of the biggest part of our group, we left the Syrian army in a condition to undertake serious offensives with our support."
Asked about his chances of remarrying after his 2014 divorce, he deflected the question, saying "I'm doing fine and happy with my life. I don't know if we should put these kind of questions in the spotlight -- wouldn't it affect the currency rate or the oil prices?"
Clinton or Trump
When asked which U.S. presidential candidate was "worse" for Russia -- Democrat Hillary Clinton or Republican Donald Trump -- Putin deflected his answer. "It is not about particular people. You need to act not from a position of force, of dictating things, but with respect," he said. Without that, it is "impossible to build relations with Russia and other nations," he said.
Putin gave Obama credit for saying his failure to plan after Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi was overthrown in 2011 was possibly the biggest mistake of his presidency. "Firstly, this fact confirms once again that the current U.S. president is a decent person," Putin said. "It's very good that my colleague has the courage to make such statements -- far from everyone can do that."
Putin said meldonium, a banned performance-enhancing drug, "never belonged in the category of doping. It does not affect the result; it simply helps the heart keep in good condition under heavy strain." Russian tennis star Maria Sharapova was banned from play after testing positive at the Australian Open in January.
Putin urged more oversight of the country's waste management system, saying the "process is uncontrollable and highly criminalized." He called on regional authorities, as well as legislation, to control the problem. "We produce about 5.4-5.6 billion tons a year, and only half is recycled, and the other half is stored in the ground."
Asked if he ever swore, he said, "Only at myself. Do I ever swear at subordinates? Yes, but again it's because I'm angry at myself."
When asked about the Panama Papers, Putin asked his own question, "Who is behind these provocations? We know that there are people -- staff members of American official institutions." He alleged the newspaper to first report the leaked documents, the German-based Sueddeutsche Zeitung, is partially owned by U.S. bank Goldman Sachs. The documents show several prominent people, from politicians to movie stars, keep their money in secret off-shore accounts. Putin was not named, but some of his associates and close friends were.
Putin said the country's economy has entered a "gray period," with a trend in a positive direction. He said a 2.2 percent spike in food prices since January is temporary and a way to bolster agriculture. The prices will stabilize soon, he said.