Each year, Russian president Vladimir Putin takes questions from citizens in an epic Q&A called “Direct Line.” The event is notable for the number of questions people submit (in the millions), the range of topics they cover (from Russian interference in the 2016 US election to the biggest fish Putin has ever caught), and its marathon length. Putin holds a similar event for press; last year’s was three hours and 40 minutes and featured screened questions from journalists.
The 17th annual Direct Line Q&A takes place today at 12pm local time. The event has changed a great deal since it was launched in 2001. It was initially filmed at Putin’s Kremlin office, before being moved in front of a live studio audience in 2008. Last year, the studio audience was scrapped altogether, with Putin taking questions from citizens by video link. It was also the first year regional governors were roped in to respond to questions, possibly in a bid by Putin to position himself as a mediator and “problem-solver-in-chief,” Russian political scientist Gleb Pavlovsky told the Moscow Times.
An official website for the event reports that 2.7 million Russians tuned in to watch last year. A state-run poll from May showed trust in Putin has hit historic lows. Perhaps that will put a damper on ratings this year (his overall approval ratings are reportedly steady).
The questions are submitted in advance via an online portal, SMS, or a dedicated mobile app, and are vetted before the event, according to the Moscow Times. Last year, Russians sent in more than 2.5 million queries, the event organizers said, with issues related to housing and utilities leading the list. Thornier issues come up, but generally in the form of softball questions. Last year, Putin answered a question about former Russian spy and double agent Sergei Skripal, whose poisoning in the UK has led to a deterioration in relations between the two countries.
Putin answered 79 questions last year over four hours and 20 minutes. Though the length of the Q&A has climbed since 2001, 2018’s session was still below 2013’s nearly five hour event.
The Direct Line program will air on local television stations Channel One, Mir TV, NTV, Public Television of Russia, Rossiya 1, and Rossiya 24. Radio stations Mayak, Radio Rossii, and Vesti FM will carry audio.
There’s an official Direct Line with Vladimir Putin website, alongside a Facebook page, which has more than 341,000 followers. The main site has video archives of more recent past events in Russian, and is expected to post a recording after it airs.
The Kremlin’s website posted an English transcript of last year’s event. The official Direct Line page also has transcripts of past events in Russian, along with recordings and videos of the questions asked. It’s likely that both sites will release the same information and multimedia this year.
This piece was updated on the day of the Direct Line event to say it airs today.