“If they [FSB] had wanted to, they would have carried this through to the end.”

These are the words of Russian President Vladimir Putin sneering at journalists during his annual press conference speaking about the poisoning of opposition politician Alexej Navalny.

In a four hour and 54 minute conference done via video-link from his official residence outside Moscow on Thursday, Putin answered questions from journalists throughout the country about Navalny’s poisoning, the economy, foreign relations and whether he will run for president again in 2024.

How Putin’s Russia Bungled the Pandemic

First and foremost, this year’s press conference focused on the coronavirus pandemic that has hit Russia hard and on how the country has coped with it. Congratulating the Russian healthcare system, Putin highlighted how Russia was able to convert some of the medical institutions in the country into being able to deal with COVID and set up a retraining system for medical personnel. 

Despite critics from the West during the first wave of the pandemic, especially regarding alleged underestimation of coronavirus deaths – in May, 2020, deaths from COVID-19 in Russia were lower than in any other country in the top 20 ranking for numbers of coronavirus cases – Putin said Russia is one of the world’s top three countries for COVID testing.

And most importantly, the Russian president proudly talked about the Sputnik V vaccine, qualifying Russia as the first country in the world to create and produce a vaccine. The Gam-COVID-Vac vaccine trade-named Sputnik V after the world’s first artificial satellite Sputnik 1, was registered on August 11, 2020 by the Russian Ministry of Health. 

“I’m quite law-abiding. I’ll listen to the recommendations of specialists, so I’ve not done it yet. But I will definitely do it as soon as it’s possible,” Putin said, adding “I see no reason not to get vaccinated.” The President also said one of his daughters has received two vaccine shots during the trial phase of the experiment over the summer. 

Navalny’s Poisoning

Politically speaking, as usual Vladimir Putin’s future plans were not fully revealed, leaving journalists with no answer regarding Russia’s constitutional changes decision or his potential 2024 presidential bid. 

“Was it worth it or not to amend the Constitution? I have a universal rule. You need to ask yourself: Will this be for the good of the country? If it is, then it’s worth doing,” Putin said. “I have not yet decided if I will run again in 2024. To do it or not to do it, I will see. Stable development of the country is my priority.”

In terms of Putin’s strategy, it seemed the Russian president had already prepared all the questions he answered the journalists, including those about the Navalny investigation and the Kremlin’s involvement in his poisoning. When a reporter from BBC News brought up the report from the investigative journalism website Bellingcat that shows in detail that the attack on Alexei Navalny was orchestrated by the Russian state, Putin got serious for a moment. Then he laughed.

Through his answer, the Russian president said that he haven’t received any official statement from the Prosecutor General’s office about the attack. Putin blamed the German authorities for turning all the materials over to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). According to Putin, they refused to share information with Russian government.

Putin said he’s ready to launch an investigation and inviting journalists to share any news regarding the chemical weapon that was used on Navalny. He also confirmed that Russian intelligence agents had been tracking Navalny’s movements across the country, because “the intelligence agencies of course need to keep an eye on him.”

Russian Interference in US Elections

But this was not the end: the topics then touched upon included Russian interference during US elections, despite Putin’s repeated past denials. Putin underlined that Russian hackers did not help Donald Trump to get elected and did not interfere in US domestic affairs.

“This is nothing but speculation and an excuse to degrade relations between Russia and the United States. This is an excuse to not recognize the incumbent US president’s legitimacy for domestic US considerations,” Putin said, adding that “In this sense, Russia-US relations have become hostage to domestic politics in the United States.”

Speaking of Joe Biden, Putin believes the US president-elect will sort things out due to his domestic and foreign policy experience. Putin said that he hopes Biden will solve al problems that arise between the US and Russia — “if not all, then at least some of them”.