The Latest: Putin: Syrian army well shored up by Russia

Vladimir Putin
The Associated Press

MOSCOW (AP) — The Latest on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s marathon call-in TV show (all times local):

1:50 p.m.

Russian President Vladimir Putin says Russia has shored up the Syrian army to the point where it can conduct offensive operations despite a Russian military drawdown.

Putin, who was speaking Thursday in a marathon call-in TV show, says after Russia pulled back some of its warplanes from Syria, the Syrian army recaptured Palmyra from the Islamic State group.

Putin voiced hope that the Russian- and U.S.-brokered truce will help Syria peace talks in Geneva go forward, paving way for a new constitution and an early election. The IS and the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front have been excluded from the truce.

Commenting on the situation around Aleppo, where fighting has intensified recently, Putin said the Nusra units and other opposition forces are positioned close to each other, complicating the situation.

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1:25 p.m.

President Vladimir Putin says Russia’s agricultural production has risen even though its national economy has plunged into recession, and predicts that the economy will start growing next year.

Putin was speaking Thursday during his highly scripted marathon call-in TV show. The Russian leader uses the annual event to burnish his image as a strong leader who protects Russia from foreign threats and cares about people’s needs.

The first question came from a woman from the Siberian region of Omsk who asked about potholed roads. Putin replied the government needs to make sure that local officials don’t divert road construction funds to other needs.

Ahead of the show, Russians sent more than 1 million questions to Putin, ranging from economic troubles at home to the situation in Syria and Ukraine.

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