Story highlights

At a question-and-answer session, he says Russia helped the Syrian army retake Palmyra

The Russian President denies Russian wrongdoing regarding doping in athletics

CNN  — 

Ever wonder what the fuss over the Panama Papers is all about?

Well, according to Russian President Vladimir Putin, it’s all part of an American plot to destabilize Russia before elections are held there in September.

That’s what he said Thursday during his annual televised question-and-answer session in Moscow.

The Russian President denied any wrongdoing, saying the leaked documents “have not specifically accused anyone of anything. They’ve just said, ‘someone there did something,’ implying officials, including the president.”

And he blamed the United States for the revelations.

Opinion: Panama Papers and America’s problem

“We know that members of the American intelligence community are involved,” Putin said. “The German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung is owned by a holding company, and that holding is owned by the American financial company Goldman Sachs. The closer we get to the elections, the more such attacks we will see.”

In a 3½-hour Q and A session, Putin took questions from citizens on a variety of topics.

Whom to save – Erdogan or Poroshenko?

It might not be the most pressing question in international affairs. But it’s interesting to ponder. And out of the mouths of babes come great questions.

A 12-year-old girl asked Putin this: If he saw Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan drowning, which one he would save?

Putin is known to dislike both men. And he dodged the question.

“If someone decided to drown, so it will be impossible to save him,” he replied. “However, we are ready to help everyone if they want it.”

On Obama

The relationship between Putin and U.S. President Barack Obama has been notoriously difficult. But Obama did win plaudits from the Russian strongman for having admitted that his biggest mistake in office was having failed to plan adequately for the aftermath of the toppling of the Moammar Gadhafi regime in Libya.

“Once again,” Putin said, “this affirms that the current President of the United States is a good man.”

But he’s not really taking sides in American politics. Putin has in the past had kind words for the Republican contender Donald Trump, calling him last December “a very colorful and talented man.”

Doping in athletics

Putin said Russian athletes have done nothing wrong in regard to doping.

Meldonium, a banned performance-enhancing drug, “never belonged in the category of doping,” Putin said. “It does not affect the result; it simply helps the heart keep in good condition under heavy strain. Meldonium was invented in the USSR. The drug is mostly used by Eastern European athletes. (The World Anti-Doping Agency) has adjusted its position, saying it will undergo trials to understand how rapidly meldonium is excreted.”

Russian tennis champion Maria Sharapova was suspended from play by the International Tennis Federation after testing positive for the drug at the Australian Open in January.

“We understand that our athletes are in a difficult situation,” Putin said. “WADA is reviewing its approach to the use of the drug, and we are working for a fair decision. The Ministry of Sport is working with good lawyers.”

Travel for Russians to Turkey and Egypt

“It is not dependent on us,” Putin said. “In Egypt, authorities are struggling with radicals. We are working with Egyptian authorities to find a way to screen passengers, baggage and food. At the moment, we have not found the answer.”

“With Turkey, we see a similar picture. The current leadership is not struggling as much with radicals. There is a security problem. … There is use of heavy weapons and terrorist attacks. We have to tell our citizens that Turkey is dangerous. We tell our people to holiday in Crimea, the Caucasus and other countries.”

War and terrorism have strained relations between Russia and the two countries. In October, Metrojet Flight 9268 from Egypt to Russia was downed over Egypt’s Sinai, killing 224 people. ISIS claimed responsibility for bombing the Russian airliner. And in November, Turkey shot down a Russian warplane near the Turkish-Syrian border. Afterward, Putin advised Russians not to visit Turkey, and Russia’s Federal Agency for Tourism told travel agents to stop selling tours to the country.

On Russian help for the government of Syria

Putin took credit for the Syrian government’s ability to regain control of Palmyra from ISIS.

“We left the Syrian army in such a state that they are able to carry out offensive operations, and we have seen that after our withdrawal they took back Palmyra,” he said.

But other aspects of Syria’s civil war are tougher, he said.

“Around Aleppo, the situation is very difficult,” Putin said. “It is the second-largest city and commercial capital. The opposition is trying to improve its position, while everything is fine with the Syrian army there. We are closely monitoring the situation and will do everything to make sure it does not deteriorate.”