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Photo: Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images

Russian President Vladimir Putin told the virtual “Davos Agenda” conference on Wednesday that recent events in the U.S. had underscored the danger of “public discontent” combined with “modern technology.”

The big picture: Putin, a late addition to the speakers' list, is facing protests at home over the arrest of opposition figure Alexey Navalny. Several experts and activists criticized the World Economic Forum for inviting him, with chess champion and Kremlin critic Garry Kasparov tweeting that Putin’s appearance showed he was “desperate to reassure his cronies he's still acceptable in the West despite his brutal crackdown.”

What he’s saying: Putin said growing inequality and “systemic socio-economic problems” were “splitting the society,” adding: “This pressure shows through even in those countries which seem to possess well-established civic and democratic institutions.”

  • He said Big Tech firms had established monopolies, and questioned whether their services were serving “the public interest” or further contributing to the divide.
  • “We have seen all of this quite recently in the United States, and everybody understands quite well what I’m talking about," he said.

Between the lines: This could also be read as a self-serving argument from Putin, who has sharply curtailed freedoms online and was only yesterday forced to respond to a viral YouTube video in which Navalny claimed he owned a “billion dollar palace."

The other side: Putin’s style diverged sharply from Chinese President Xi Jinping, who addressed the conference on Monday.

  • Xi appeared polished and camera-ready, breaking his speech into four themes and speaking in sweeping terms about international cooperation.
  • Putin was late to start, sat in a slouched position and peppered his speech with economic statistics in a tone that alternated between combativeness and disinterest.

Worth noting: Putin also contended that countries facing internal divisions were seizing on “external enemies,” particularly “countries that do not agree to become docile, easy to control satellites.”

  • He argued that the increasing the use of tools like sanctions would only increase the risk of future “military force.”

Go deeper: Biden's Russia challenge

Go deeper

Jan 26, 2021 - World

Biden holds first phone call with Putin, raises Navalny arrest

Putin takes a call in 2017. Photo: Handout/Anadolu Agency/Getty

President Biden on Tuesday held his first call since taking office with Vladimir Putin, pressing the Russian president on the arrest of opposition leader Alexey Navalny and the Russia-linked hack on U.S. government agencies.

The state of play: Biden also raised arms control, bounties allegedly placed on U.S. troops in Afghanistan and the war in Ukraine, according to a White House readout. The statement said Biden and Putin agreed maintain "consistent communication," and that Biden stressed the U.S. would "act firmly in defense of its national interests in response to actions by Russia that harm us or our allies."

Federal judge blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for federal workers

President Biden speaking from Eisenhower Executive Office Building on Jan. 21. Photo: Yuri Gripas/Abaca/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A federal judge in Texas blocked the Biden administration from enforcing its coronavirus vaccine mandate for federal workers on Friday, citing the outcome of last week's Supreme Court ruling that nullified the administration's vaccine-or-test requirement for large employers.

Why it matters: It's a blow to President Biden's efforts to increase the U.S.' vaccination rates, though much of the federal workforce has already been vaccinated against the virus.

Updated 30 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

  1. Health: Pfizer and Moderna boosters overwhelmingly prevent Omicron hospitalizations, CDC finds — Omicron pushes COVID deaths toward 2,000 per day — The pandemic-proof health care giant.
  2. Vaccines: The case for Operation Warp Speed 2.0 — Starbucks drops worker vaccine or test requirement after SCOTUS ruling — Kids' COVID vaccination rates are particularly low in rural America.
  3. Politics: Biden concedes U.S. should have done more testing — Arizona says it "will not be intimidated" by Biden on anti-mask school policies.
  4. World: American Airlines flight to London forced to turn around over mask dispute — WHO: COVID health emergency could end this year — Greece imposes vaccine mandate for people 60 and older — Austria approves COVID vaccine mandate for adults.
  5. Variant tracker