Putin on U.S. Politics, Ukraine & Power

At the annual presser in Moscow Thursday, Putin gave his thoughts on impeachment

Welcome back to “From Russia With Mila,” where I cover Eastern Europe through the lens of journalism and the media industry. Happy Friday!

This has been a historic week in American politics. As you know, on Wednesday, December 18, 2019, Trump became the third US president ever impeached by the House of Representatives. He now awaits trial in the Senate, which is at an impasse since Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced she will not send over the articles of impeachment until she feels the trial will be fairly based on facts and evidence.

Putin’s comments on Trump’s impeachment

Meantime, Russian President Vladimir Putin held his annual “press conference” (widely viewed as less of an informational Q&A and more of a “publicity stunt” for the Russian leader) in Moscow, taking questions from international and domestic media for four hours and twenty minutes straight.

I’ve included a breakdown of some of the key things from this interaction yesterday, but of most notable significance to US media — Putin’s comments on Trump’s impeachment.

Re: Trump’s impeachment

The impeachment of Trump, Putin said, was based on "made-up reasons," and was not likely to lead to the US President's removal.

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaking during his annual press conference in Moscow.

"Regarding the continuation of our dialogue till the end of Trump's presidency, you make it sound as if it's already coming to an end," Putin said answering a question about whether Russia has a strategy for continuing the dialogue with the US until the end of Trump's presidency.

"I actually really doubt that it is ending, it still has to go through Senate where as far as I know the Republicans hold the majority so it's unlikely they will want to remove the representative of their party for some made-up reasons." (CNN)

Dmitry Simes, head of the Washington-based think tank Center for the National Interest (mentioned in the Mueller report for providing advice to Trump's campaign on Russia), asked this question.

The rhetoric that Trump and Putin have used on this topic is very similar:

Re: Ukraine and collusion

Another notable moment from Putin’s presser was on Ukraine. The idea that Ukraine had some role in meddling in the 2016 elections is a claim that has been debunked by US intelligence officials, and this Washington Post article details these Ukraine conspiracy theories peddled by congressional Republicans and members of conservative media.

Putin, of course, welcomes the rhetoric that it was Ukraine, not Russia, that interfered in the 2016 US presidential election.

Putin has appeared to be amused by the turn of events in the United States. Speaking in Moscow last month, he said, “Thank God no one is accusing us of interfering in the U.S. elections anymore. Now, they’re accusing Ukraine.” (WaPo)

Now, Putin’s comments on Ukraine from the press conference:

"This is just the continuation of the internal political battle, one party that lost the elections, the Democrats, and are now trying to find new ways by accusing Trump of collusion with Russia. But then it turns out there was no collusion, this can't be the basis for the impeachment. Now they came up with some pressure on Ukraine, I don't know what is the [pressure] but this is up to your congressmen."

Re: Possibly changing term conditions for Russian presidency

In Russia, the president can be elected to two consecutive terms of six years each. Putin is currently in his second consecutive term, which began in 2018. In 2024, according to the current constitution, he would not be eligible to be elected president again.

However, at the press conference, he alluded to intending to remain in power, either by altering term limits or opening the door for him to become prime minister.

CNN’s Moscow bureau chief Nathan Hodge breaks this down, among other topics brought up in the presser, in his analysis:

"What could be done with regard to this is to remove the 'consecutive' provision," the president said, answering a question about the possibility of constitutional amendments.

Putin is currently serving a fourth term in office, and the Russian constitution bars an individual from serving more than two consecutive terms as president. In theory, Putin must step aside after 2024, but there is intense speculation in Russian political circles that the constitution might be amended to allow him to serve unlimited terms -- or that Putin might once again assume the office of prime minister, as he did after his second term as president.

The Constitution of Russia of 1993 was amended in 2008 after Dmitry Medvedev (now prime minister) had just become president after Putin’s term ended. The amendment extended the presidential term from four to six years.

From this Reuters article on Nov. 26, 2008:

Critics of the Kremlin say the change could be part of a plan for ex-president Vladimir Putin, now prime minister, to return to his old job, although officials deny this.

Leaders of other countries, such as Egypt’s Sisi, have recently amended constitutions to remain in power for longer periods of time.

Images from the press marathon —>

Normally, journalists in attendance bring giant posters, but this year the Kremlin banned them:

A close-up of that shawl:

That’s all for now. I hope you have a very happy holiday season! Reach out with any questions or comments, connect on Twitter for the latest, and stop back for more on media and Eastern Europe.

— Мила (Mila)

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