MOSCOW, April 17 (RIA Novosti) - Russian President Vladimir Putin will answer questions from the public today during his twelfth yearly call-in show called "Direct Line with Vladimir Putin."
This year's "Direct Line" comes as the country is facing accusations of fomenting unrest in Ukraine after the breakaway republic Crimea voted by a landslide to leave Ukraine for Russia last month. The referendum prompted other southeastern Russian-speaking regions to demand more rights from the coup-imposed nationalist regime in Kiev.
The President is expected to comment on the situation in Ukraine as well as EU and US sanctions on Russia following Crimea's accession. One of the leading questions among those already fielded is whether Putin would consider moving troops into eastern Ukraine to answer calls for help from its Russian-speaking population.
Russians are also curious about how Putin is going to react to the West flexing its muscle. Putin is expected to share his take on the US's decision to send an aircraft carrier group to the Black Sea and NATO's continued build-up in neighboring Poland and across the Baltic region.
And yet questions that are commonly asked tend to zero in on Russia's domestic policies and social woes, like housing costs, public transport and wages. After receiving a whopping three million questions last year, the president tackled a wide range of domestic issues, from roads and pensions to the fate of two ethnic Chechens who were implicated by the US in the 2013 Boston bombings.
Questions began pouring in days before the start of "Direct Line," with some texted to a special phone number, others recorded by operators at specially-designated call centers and even more submitted to government websites.
The majority of televised questions traditionally come from people around the country, with whom Putin communicates via video linkups to various Russian cities, while many urgent and touchy issues are addressed by guest journalists, both local and foreign, who are invited to the recording studio to take part in the question and answer show.
In the last episode of "Direct Line with Vladimir Putin," the President discussed the possibility of tighter cooperation between US and Russian intelligence agencies, which he called an ongoing topic. Putin said he hoped for more partnership with Washington to prevent tragedies like the Boston marathon bombing, when Moscow warned Obama of the threat that came from radicals moving to the US from Chechnya. Russia's cooperation with China was yet another topic that often popped up on the show over the past decade.
The organizers of the 2014 event are expected to keep to another well-established tradition, which is linking up Putin with at least one foreign region. Residents are invited to take advantage of the open mike to quiz the Russian leader on whatever topic they like.
In 2002 the linkup was to Tajikistan's capital Dushanbe, a Russian air base in Central Asia's Kyrgyzstan in 2003, Latvia's Riga in 2005, Crimea's historic port city and seat of Russia's Black Sea Fleet Sevastopol in 2007 and a randomly-chose city in Kazakhstan in 2007.
The president's marathon engagement with Russians has always been a matter of endurance, since Putin has often said he could speak on concerns of his voters for hours. In 2013, the hotline session lasted a staggering four hours and 47 minutes.
The duration of Putin's "Direct Line" sessions has been increasing steadily over recent years. The first hotline lasted a modest 140 minutes and kept Putin to the point. As the audience got the taste of Putin's candidness, the number of questions he fielded and subsequently the length of hotline sessions snowballed to a total of 37 hours.
France's Francois Hollande tried to break the record during a 154-minute long question and answer session with reporters at the Elysee Palace in January. The French leader did not manage to come away unscathered from the predatory bunch of some 500 journalists who attacked Hollande's alleged affair with an actress, forcing the French president to backtrack from private issues and switch to discussing initiatives to revive the country's stagnating economy.
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Infographics: World War I, 1914-1918
If attempts to drag Russia into a direct military conflict in Ukraine are successful, it would be a catastrophe for Russia comparable to the 1979-1989 Afghan war. There is no direct evidence that the US is trying to bring about a second Afghan war, but indirect evidence abounds.