MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin said Thursday that he has yet to receive the Russian-made Sputnik V vaccine because it has not yet been approved for anyone over 65.

“I am a fairly law-abiding person,” said Putin, 68, on Thursday during an annual call in event during which Putin takes questions from reporters and ordinary citizens and which has become a sort of holiday tradition.

“I listen to the recommendations of our specialists. So I haven’t had the shot yet. But I will absolutely do it as soon as that becomes possible,” he added.

Putin ordered widescale vaccinations in Russia earlier this month, with doctors and teachers at the front of the line to receive the shots.

Sputnik V has been touted in Russia as the world’s first registered Covid-19‘s vaccine after it received regulatory approval in early August. However, it has drawn criticism from experts, because at the time it had only been tested on several dozen people.

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Putin also denied, again, his country’s involvement in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, and said Russia was a “hostage” of internal U.S. politics.

“This is all a pretext to undermine relations between Russia and the U.S. and an effort to deny the still serving president legitimacy,” he said.

He hinted that he hopes that Russia’s relationship with the U.S. will improve under President-elect Joe Biden, calling him “an experienced person both in domestic and foreign policy.”

Putin also called the poisoning of leading Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny with a nerve agent earlier this year a “trick” to harm the Russian government.

Recent investigative reports have demonstrated that the Russian Federal Security Service — the successor agency to the Soviet KGB — tried multiple times to assassinate Navalny, currently in Berlin recovering.

“If someone wanted to poison him, they probably would have finished the job,” said Putin.

The conference is a pillar of Putin’s domestic image building, and something of a fixture in the holiday season in Russia. He has done this almost every year of his rule as president of Russia. What started as a simple hourlong call-in show on state television has become a marathon production designed to portray Putin as a transparent and a caring leader.

For several hours each year, Putin sits and take questions — ostensibly selected at random — on a variety of topics, from small-scale domestic issues to big-picture foreign policy developments. In the past, citizens from far-flung regions have been patched through to beg for help on extremely local issues. Putin then would sometimes call local officials right away to berate them for mismanagement.

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The pandemichas complicated the format of this year’s event, and at one point even threatened to cancel it entirely. Russia’s regions are being hit hard by the virus amid the pandemic’s second wave, and the health care systems in many remote areas are being pushed to the limit. There have been reports of shortages not only of critical medicines, but also of hospital beds and medical personnel to tend to critical patients.

This year the Kremlin chose to push ahead with an entirely virtual version. Putin dialed in from his residence outside Moscow, rather than join more than 1,000 reporters in a large conference center within the city limits as in previous years.

One typical mainstay of the event has been the lengths that Russian journalists would go to in order to catch his attention when he was taking a new question. Catchy posters, elaborate costumes — it was all fair game when Putin got on stage for the annual Q&A session.

Thursday’s conference is the first time that Putin made a prominent public appearance after finally recognizing Biden as the winner of the U.S. presidential election, and it is likely that Putin will address in detail Moscow’s priorities vis-a-vis Washington, D.C., as it makes its first contacts with the incoming administration.

This annual tradition looks certain to outlast the pandemic. In March, the Russian Parliament approved a sweeping constitutional reform that will allow Putin to stay in power for another 12 years after his current term ends in 2024.


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