Putin makes fun of Comey's testimony about Trump

Russian President Vladimir Putin gestures as he speaks to journalists following a live nationwide broadcast call-in in Moscow, 15 June Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Mr Putin spoke for nearly four hours

Russia's president has joked he could offer asylum to former FBI chief James Comey if he runs into trouble for leaking recorded conversations with the US president to the press.

Vladimir Putin compared Mr Comey to US whistleblower Edward Snowden, who now lives in Russia.

"If he's persecuted... we're ready to give him political asylum," he said.

He again poured scorn on claims Russia had interfered in the US elections, citing an absence of evidence.

Overall though, foreign policy took a back seat to domestic issues in this year's Direct Line show - Mr Putin's annual marathon phone-in.

For almost four hours, the Russian president fielded calls from across the country. He offered sympathy to dozens of people complaining of miserable salaries, poor medical care and bad roads, and doled out reprimands and orders to regional leaders.

It is a well-practised format meant to showcase Vladimir Putin the Benevolent.

Signs of frustration

His opening remarks acknowledged times had been tough and people's incomes had plummeted with more than 13% of Russians now living beneath the poverty line. Mr Putin stressed that the economy was now back to growth, though, and said maintaining that trend was his priority.

But with less than a year before presidential elections, some Russians are clearly growing frustrated.

One text message flashed on screen informing Mr Putin that three terms in office were enough.

Image copyright Steve Rosenberg
Image copyright Sarah Rainsford

Another asked: "How long will we have to hear 'there is no money, but hang on in there'?"

One text described the whole stage-managed call-in as a "circus" while another told the president simply: "Goodbye, Vladimir Vladimirovich".

After the show, Mr Putin was asked by the BBC about a recent wave of street protests. Mr Putin said that legal protest was part of democracy, but suggested that the anti-corruption campaigner behind them - who he didn't name - was only motivated by self-promotion.

Alexei Navalny wants to challenge Vladimir Putin for the presidency.

Mr Putin was deliberately vague on his own plans for 2018 but he told the BBC that other world leaders had served a long time in office, describing that as "fine" if it was "within the law".

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