Hours later, shortly after taking off on a flight from Tomsk to Moscow, Mr. Navalny was heard screaming in the airplane bathroom before collapsing, forcing the pilot to make an emergency landing. By the time he arrived at a hospital in Omsk, another Siberian city, he was in a coma.
Mr. Putin eventually allowed Mr. Navalny to be flown to Berlin for treatment. German military scientists determined that Mr. Navalny had been poisoned with a toxin from the Russian-made Novichok family of nerve agents. Those results were confirmed by labs in France and Sweden as well as by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the global chemical weapons watchdog.
But Russia has consistently denied any involvement, at one point alleging that Mr. Navalny could have been poisoned in Germany. On Thursday, Mr. Putin claimed that Western intelligence agencies were using the poisoning to increase Mr. Navalny’s prominence.
“This trick of political battle is used around the world,” Mr. Putin said.
The marathon news conference is a longtime tradition for Mr. Putin, a way to show with great fanfare that he is accountable to the people. The event typically has a circuslike atmosphere, with journalists from across the country packing a Moscow conference hall in their region’s traditional dress or with colorful signs in the hope of drawing the president’s attention.
This time around, because of the pandemic, journalists asked questions by video link from conference rooms across the vast country, as far east as the port city of Vladivostok, more than 5,500 miles away on the Pacific. Mr. Putin spoke remotely from a studio at his residence outside Moscow, in keeping with his practice since the start of the pandemic of avoiding virtually all physical contact with others.
Questions early in the news conference focused on the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed 49,151 people in Russia, according to the official statistics, which are widely viewed as understating the toll. Mr. Putin, echoing a common refrain of Russian officials and the state media, acknowledged that Russia was hit hard but insisted that things were even worse elsewhere. He highlighted Russia’s development of its own coronavirus vaccine and the creation of thousands of dedicated hospital beds.
“There is a sea of problems, but this sea, this ocean is everywhere,” Mr. Putin said. “I can say confidently that we met these problems worthily, perhaps even better than in other countries.”