MOSCOW, June 16 (Xinhua) -- In his annual call-in with the public and media in and outside Russia on Thursday, President Vladimir Putin highlighted the national economy, the Moscow-Washington relations and regional conflicts involving Russia, among others.

Putin chose to answer 73 questions among the 1.9 million questions he received at the 15th nationally televised "Direct Line" questions-and-answers session.


The Russian top leader said that Western sanctions against Russia have had only a limited effect, and the national economy has even benefited from them.

Russia has managed to overcome its recession and achieved a year-on-year growth of 0.7 percent in the first quarter of 2017, he said.

Western sanctions, imposed since 2014 over Crimea, are a double-edged sword since Russia lost some 50 billion U.S. dollars while the West lost 100 billion dollars, Putin said, adding some sectors of the Russian economy, particularly the agriculture, have benefited from the sanctions.

He announced that the Russian agricultural sector has shown a 3-percent growth, and the country, now the world's biggest wheat exporter, has significantly reduced its food imports and increased domestic production of pork and poultry.

Other sectors positively affected by the sanctions include radio electronics, aircraft building, the space industry, the pharmaceutical industry and heavy engineering, among others.

Putin added that Russia is ready to lift its sanctions if Western countries lift their own, too. "We will watch how our relations develop with the countries that imposed restrictions on our economy."


The prevalent Russia-phobia in the United States revealed the country's domestic political wrestle, said the Russian president.

He added that Russia is willing to grant asylum to James Comey, former chief of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), in case he is persecuted in his nation.

Comey, sacked by the Trump administration last month, acted like U.S. whistleblower Edward Snowden, said Putin.

"When a special service head records a conversation with the commander-in-chief and gives it to the media ... he is then not a special service head but a human rights advocate who defends a certain position," said Putin.

Trump had said he fired Comey because of his handling of Hillary Clinton's email leaks during the 2016 presidential elections. But the former FBI chief said he was sacked due to his investigation into Russia's ties with Trump's campaign.

As for Comey's investigation into Russian interference in the presidential elections, Putin said that Comey provided no evidence.


On the Ukraine issue, Putin noted that Russia did not seek to interfere in its neighbor's domestic affairs, and Washington shall play a constructive role in settling the crisis in Ukraine's southeastern area.

He also said that Russian armed forces and defense industry have benefited from the anti-terrorist operations in Syria.

"The experience of deploying our troops and newest weapons in combat conditions is absolutely priceless," Putin said, explaining that the Russian troops have acquired a "different quality" and some units operated very effectively.

The use of the newest weapons allowed Russians to understand how they perform in combat conditions, and the Russian defense industry had a chance to see whether it shall make necessary adjustments, Putin said.

The task of the Russian armed forces in the near future is to raise the combat capability of the Syrian troops and provide them with occasional support in fighting terrorists, he added.

Russia began to participate in the combat operations in Syria in September 2015. It has now withdrawn the majority of its troops from the war-torn country.

Speaking of the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative, Putin said he hopes it could start a new stage of cooperation in Eurasia and beyond.

This initiative is unique and successful, he said. "I have no doubt that we will work together and this work will be effective and beneficial for the Chinese and Russian people as well as the global economy."