Staunton, December 22 – At his press conference, Vladimir Putin got one thing right that he has never done before: he said three times that Russians and Ukrainians are separate nations, something Andrey Illarionov says is “the first result” of Ukrainian autocephaly and the most important ideological message of the session (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=5C1E6B79B610F).
But if he got that right, Syrlybay Aybusinov, a fact checker for the Open Media Foundation, says, Putin made at least 23 factual mistakes, some of which were sufficiently obvious and serious that the Kremlin had to introduce corrections in its published transcript (openmedia.io/exclusive/skolko-raz-vladimir-putin-oshibsya-na-press-konferencii/).
Both the errors themselves and the Kremlin’s all-too-transparent effort to cover them up call into question Putin’s pose as the all-wise and all-knowing leader that he and his supporters invariably claim him to be. They also suggest he is slipping with age as he rarely made that many mistakes in earlier press conferences.
Many of these mistakes were about far from unimportant issues: Putin misstated the size of Russia’s economic growth over the last decade and the impact of sanctions; he gave the wrong figures for Russia’s natural gas reserves; and he said Russia produces 80 percent of the medicines it needs, a vast exaggeration.
When discussing private military companies, Putin treated them as legal when in fact in Russia they are not. He gave incorrect figures about the Sea of Azov and the Crimean bridge built to the occupied Ukrainian peninsula. And perhaps most outrageously, he claimed that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate was “completely independent.” Exactly the reverse is true.
Unlike most world leaders, Putin has seldom been subject to intense fact checking. Aybusinov is to be praised to taking up this task. Unfortunately, he may find as fact checkers do in the United States that his national leader has only the most distant links to reality and facts about it.
Indeed, one involuntarily recalls the pamphlet the great Swedish explorer Sven Hedin published almost a century ago about another fantast in Russia, Ferdinand Ossendowski, whose enormous popular works about the Russian civil war in the Far East were a pastiche of fact and invention.
Hedin called his brief book, Ossendowski and the Truth: Two Strangers. One fears that any similar book compiled now will be far longer – and much more important.
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