MOSCOW: President Vladimir Putin on Friday took part in a live television show, fielding questions from Russian youngsters in an apparent bid to connect with teenagers who have been flocking to opposition rallies.
Putin, his shirt collar unbuttoned, faced his young audience at an educational centre for gifted children from 10 to 17 year of age in the Black Sea city of Sochi for a show called “A Grown-up Conversation” televised by the pro-Kremlin NTV channel.
The 64-year-old leader revealed gaping holes in his knowledge of youth culture when asked whether he scrolled through Instagram or other social networks in his spare moments.
“I personally practically don’t use this,” Putin said of the Internet, adding that members of his staff do get online.
“My hard working day finishes so late, I’m not up to Instagram,” he said in justification.
However he compared chat names used in the Internet with the use of pseudonyms when he trained at spy school to become a KGB agent, revealing that his pseudonym was Platov.
Putin took part in the two and a half hour show, the first of its kind, as the Kremlin appears to be wooing youth support, following high turnout by teenagers at rallies organised by top opposition leader Alexei Navalny.
During the TV programme, Putin refused to firm up his intentions for next year’s presidential election when asked by a bow-tie wearing teenager called Ivan.
“I haven’t decided yet,” Putin said. “I’ll see.”
Asked if he had a political successor in mind, the president evaded the question, saying it was a common practice for an outgoing president to recommend a candidate, while stressing that “the people decide.”
‘Certain opposition figures’
One teenage girl with bleached hair asked Putin his opinion on “certain opposition figures,” in an apparent reference to Navalny, whose campaign against official corruption has gone viral on YouTube.
The Russian leader, continuing his practice of never referring to Navalny by name, said that opposition should not speculate on such matters.
“You mustn’t just speculate on those problems, you must always offer your solutions. You mustn’t speculate, for example on the problem of corruption,” Putin said.
“It’s not enough just to shout ‘Stop thief!’, you also need not to thieve yourself, do you understand me?” he said.
Navalny later joked on Twitter that the girl had coined a new phrase to refer to him.
“The collection of euphemisms for Navalny is growing. Now there’s ‘certain opposition personalities’.”
One of the founders of the Sirius educational centre that Putin visited, is his cellist friend Sergei Roldugin.
Last year Roldugin was caught up in a scandal over the leaked Panama Papers, which claimed he headed an offshore empire worth some $2 billion, allegations he and Putin denied.