Vladimir Putin always has a lot to say at his end-of-year press conferences.
And Thursday in Moscow, the Russian president returned to the podium once again for a nearly four-hour session with reporters.
Although the annual event is — for the most part — predictable and heavily scripted, dissonant voices somehow manage to pipe up.
"There are always a few — two, three or four representatives of independent media — which is still alive but it's not in very good shape," says Mikhail Fishman, an anchor at the independent Russian television channel TV Rain. "They come up with their questions about what we really care about."
Just being called upon to offer a question at the event is many journalists' goal. Expecting a relevant answer is too much to ask, according to Fishman.
One telling moment Thursday came in a question to the Russian head of state from Tatyana Felgenhauer, the deputy editor of the Ekho Moskvy radio station, one of the country's few outlets for independent journalism. Felgenhauer made headlines in October when a man broke into Ekho Moskvy's studios and stabbed her in the throat.
"She delivered a very good little speech about unequal access to justice in Russia which is the most sensitive and the most disturbing problem that we have," Fishman says. "She compared various criminal cases — like the investigation of the 2015 murder of Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, when the investigators didn't get access to their key witness because he just didn't open the door. She compared it to the real pressure that the Russian state puts on those who they see as the enemies of the state."
In response to the question, Putin became visibly angry.
"He didn't expect it," Fishman says. "He said justice [in Russia] is equal for everyone. And if you have your own opinion you should address the Russian court system."
Felgenhauer received some applause after posing her question.
Russian state television has described her and Ekho Moskvy as working on behalf of foreign interests in Russia in advance of presidential elections next March.