Russia's Putin fields media questions at annual marathon press conference

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By Yuliya Talmazan and Reuters  with NBC News World News
Image: Russian President Vladimir Putin's annual end-of-year news conferenc
President Vladimir Putin attends his annual end-of-year news conference in Moscow on Thursday.   -   Copyright  EVGENIA NOVOZHENINA

Russian President Vladimir Putin began fielding questions from members of the media in his annual press conference Thursday as his country faced growing political and economic pressure from the U.S.

The Russian leader usually focuses on domestic issues, but in the past hasn't shied away from commenting on foreign policy and Russia's strained relations with the West. The event, which can last for several hours, began at around noon (4 a.m. ET).

The press conference comes a day after U.S. officials voted to place strict sanctions on Russia.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee advanced legislation, described by one sponsor as the sanctions bill "from hell" due to the broad penalties it could impose on Russian companies from various sectors, but no indication was given on further timings.

Putin's conference with reporters also comes in the wake of President Donald Trump's impeachment in a vote by the House of Representatives Wednesday.

For the third time in the U.S.'s history, the House of Representatives voted to impeach a sitting president, acting after a daylong debate on whether Trump violated his oath in pressuring Ukraine to damage a political opponent.

The impeachment vote could delay the imposition of sanctions against Russia as fresh restrictions are unlikely to be put forward until after the political storm abates in the United States.

This story will be updated throughout the press conference.