MOSCOW - Russian President Vladimir V. Putin countered tough questions Thursday about a proposal to ban U.S. adoptions of Russian children by directing harsh criticism at the U.S. government, but he refused to say clearly whether he would approve the legislation.
The proposal, which lawmakers say will be on his desk within a week, is a retaliation for a new U.S. law that takes action against Russian human-rights violators. Putin - who appears caught between the actions of hot-headed allies in parliament and members of his cabinet who say the ban would penalize Russian children while doing little to strike back at U.S. lawmakers - called it "an emotional response" but said it was "appropriate."
"Will I sign it or not? I need to look" at the specific language, he said. "Maybe today or tomorrow, I'll try to do it."
During the course of a marathon 41/2-hour news conference that was broadcast live, Putin faced unusually pointed questions intermingled with softballs from friendly reporters from Russia's more remote regions. The president has made a year-end tradition of the question-and-answer sessions, which have in the past allowed him to portray himself as a hard-edged, detail-oriented manager, equally comfortable reeling off economic statistics and demonstrating his familiarity with fishing, railway, and housing matters across the vast country's nine time zones.
But after a year that saw the rise, then stagnation, of an opposition movement that provided the most serious challenge yet to Putin's 12-year rule, a new hint of anger crept into the questioning Thursday in a hall packed with more than 1,200 journalists. Unlike in previous years, when most of the questions came from state-owned media outlets and seemed prearranged, Putin's spokesman also called on several Western reporters and Russian opposition bloggers, who pressed the peeved-looking president on human-rights issues. Even many mainstream Russian journalists were newly confrontational.