UPDATE: Assassination fears behind Putin’s cancellation of annual press conference

Vladimir Putin - Credit Kremlin

07:24 (December 16) – Earlier this week Putin cancelled his annual press conference, a chance for local and international journalists to quiz the president on topics Russian.

According to the Moscow Times on Friday, December 16 the event was cancelled at the last minute with preparations at an advanced stage. This set piece on the calendar would have been the 17th such event run by Putin since he came into office in 2000. 

At least six different government officials said that the reason for the cancellation is the growing fear that the televised event would be dominated by the Ukraine war.  Fearing public humiliation following setbacks and the growing cost of the war, Putin is said to have wanted to delay any such event until such a time as the event could be deemed to focus on good news for Russia. 

Those officials also said that there were major concerns for Putin’s safety, with some believing that Kyiv would use the event to try and assassinate the leader.  One said: “No one could give a 100% guarantee that such an attack wouldn’t take place.

“The president was aware of this and it was a strong argument against holding the press conference.”

But this is not the only televised event that Putin has cancelled this year, with his traditional televised phone-in shaving last taking place in June 2021. That event allows members of the public to ask the president questions. The Kremlin has also not set a date for the annual state-of-the-nation address to lawmakers despite Putin’s spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, promising in September it would take place this year. 

15:02 (December 12) – Russian President Vladimir Putin has cancelled his annual press conference for the first time in 10 years, which in the past had allowed journalists to get answers to questions on an array of topics.  

Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin spokesperson told reporters on Monday, December 12 that the event was being cancelled and may be held at a later date.

He said: “As for the big press conference, yes, it won’t happen before the New Year.

“But we hope that the president will still find an opportunity to talk with [journalists], as he regularly does, including during foreign [visits].”

Putin has held such a conference almost every year since he came to power and ordinarily is open to questions about the economy, foreign policy etc. However, this year the conference has been postponed indefinitely without any reason being given.

Speculation is that Putin wishes to evade questions around the “special mission” in Ukraine, which are bound to dominate any press conference at which the international press is given the opportunity to ask questions.

Putin is known to be sensitive to any discussion of the success or otherwise of the mission, having had the Kremlin stage manage other engagements to limit embarrassment and questions around his competence.

The press conferences have in the past lasted a couple of hours with last year’s event inviting 500 Russian and foreign journalists that were handpicked by the Kremlin. Many of those invited did not, however, make the journey due to COVID-19 restrictions in force at the time. Typically the Kremlin invites those that it is comfortable with, whereas independent media in Russia that is critical of his rule are generally overlooked.

Novaya Gazeta, whose editor-in-chief had just been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, received no invite last year and did not expect to receive one this year.

At last year’s event when questions around potential conflict in Ukraine were asked, Putin said: “This is not our choice, we do not want this.”

Then he was happy to talk about Ukraine but as the war drags on he is less inclined to be put on the spot resulting in the annual press conference being cancelled.

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Written by

Peter McLaren-Kennedy

Originally from South Africa, Peter is based on the Costa Blanca and is a web reporter for the Euro Weekly News covering international and Spanish national news. Got a news story you want to share? Then get in touch at [email protected]