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Putin defends self, hits US

MOSCOW — For a man with a bad back, Russian President Vladimir Putin sat up straight for more than four hours Thursday in his annual marathon news conference, brushing off claims that he is an authoritarian leader and lashing out at the United States.

The annual news conferences have become a grueling and elaborate piece of theater, a show both of Putin’s vigor and of his domination of Russian politics.

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The top story on Russian news channels before the news conference itself was detailed reporting on preparations for the event, including speculation on whether he would set a new record for length. He didn’t. This year’s clocked in at 4:33, seven minutes short of the record set in 2008. But at age 60, Putin is still vigorous and showed no sign of the back injury that forced him to put off some foreign trips this fall.

He lashed out at the United States, complaining that a recent US law that allows sanctions on Russians deemed to be human rights violators was arrogant. Putin also rejected the frequent description of his rule as authoritarian, saying that he wouldn’t have stepped down after two terms if that were the case.

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