Global Politics

Host Vladimir Putin will take your questions now

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Credit: Ilya Naymushin/Reuters

Visitors in the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk walk past TV sets during Russian President Vladimir Putin's live nationwide phone-in.

Imagine a Russian head of state stepping into Phil Donahue's chair. Or maybe David Letterman's. 

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Correspondent Charles Maynes in Moscow says certain points during President Vladimir Putin's national call-in show Thursday reminded him of both American television personalities. 

"There are moments where it can veer into a kind of late night talk show," Maynes said, with the Russian leader behind a desk in front of a small audience. "They do this kind of high-tech performance where they beam into small villages and cities. And this time, for example, it was noteworthy that they went straight to Crimea for the first questions." 

Thursday's call-in session with Putin was a four-hour marathon. Perhaps the most memorable question came from former US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden who popped up via video-link.

"Does Russia intercept, store or analyze the communications of millions of individuals?" Snowden asked. "And do you believe that simply increasing the effectiveness of intelligence or law enforcement investigations can justify placing societies, rather than their subjects, under surveillance?"

Putin took a moment to relate to Snowden, noting their shared intelligence background. Then he denied that Russia spied on its citizens. 

"You have to get court permission to stalk a particular person," he said. "Thank God, our special services are strictly controlled by the state and society, and their activity is regulated by law," Putin said, adding, "We don't have as much money as they have in the States, and we don't have the technical devices that they have."

But Maynes is unconvinced. He points to evidence that Russia, in fact, has its own version of the US PRISM surveillance program that Snowden exposed. 

Toward the end of the show, Putin chose to answer a question from a 6-year-old Russian girl with a hypothetical question: If President Putin was drowning, would President Obama save him? 

Putin said despite the two leaders lack of a "special personal relationship," he thought the US leader was "a decent guy and would lend a hand."

Overall, Maynes called the the question-and-answer session "instructive theater," and "a pretty good performance" by Putin. 

"He's very commanding with statistics. He seems to know everything, and while there's a lot of softball questions and praising of the Russian leader, they do enter into these uncomfortable issues as well,"  Maynes says. 

But, he notes, Putin doesn't have to take any follow-up questions.       

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