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Russia: Putin Faces The Nation's Questions

An elderly Russian woman watching Putin's television appearance (epa) PRAGUE, October 25, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin faced his nation today in a live multimedia appearance broadcast on Russian television and radio, the fifth of its kind since he came to office in 2000.

As he had done during his previous televised question-and-answer appearance last year, Putin began today's session by praising Russia's economic performance.

MORE: Coverage of President Putin's speech in Russianfrom RFE/RL's Russian Service.

He stressed the country was maintaining an impressive 7 percent economic growth rate and had almost totally reimbursed its foreign debt this year.

Public Forum

Putin, dressed in a dark suit and seated at a table next to moderators, then proceeded to answer questions posed directly by the public via satellite television linkups from a number of Russian cities.

Some questions were selected by moderators from the almost 2 million queries and complaints submitted by telephone, Internet, or mobile-phone text messages.

The issue of immigration and intensifying ethnic violence in Russia was among the first topics to be discussed.

Responding to a question from the city of Kondopoga, the site of recent ethnic riots, Putin called on ministers to "bring order" to immigration and employment legislation to prevent similar outbreaks in the future.

"We need neither provocateurs, on the one hand, nor corrupt [government officials], on the other hand," Putin said. "We should bring order to the [retail and wholesale] trade system, to food markets, we should bring order on issues of migration and labor."

The violence broke out in Kondopoga after a fight between a group of ethnic Russians and Chechens on August 30 that left two of the Russians dead. Kondopoga residents are accusing immigrants of monopolizing the city's markets.

Presidential Succession

Putin also had opportunity to address widespread speculation over whether he will seek an unprecedented third term during Russia's next presidential elections in 2008.

The Russian leader modestly demurred, but made clear he intended to retain his political influence.

"Even though I like my job," he said, "the constitution does not allow me to run for a third term in a row, but even having lost the authority and the levers of presidential power and not tailoring the basic law according to my personal interests, I will manage to retain the most important thing that a person involved in politics must cherish -- your trust -- and using it, you and I will be able to influence life in our country."

Questions about a third presidential term have become increasingly frequent in Russia as Putin approaches the end of his second term in office.

Politkovskaya Killing

Among other questions on domestic issues, Putin was asked to respond to the recent contract-style killings of Andrei Kozlov, Russia's Central Bank first deputy chairman, and Anna Politkovskaya, a prominent journalist and fierce Kremlin critic.

He vowed to bring the perpetrators to justice. But he claimed that the number of contract killings were on the decrease and that Russian authorities were becoming more successful in cracking down on financial crimes.

As expected, Putin touched on the heated issue of Russian-Georgian relations.

He defended the current crackdown on ethnic Georgians in Russia, saying it is aimed at "preventing bloodshed" in the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

The Georgian government has repeatedly said it wants to find peaceful means to resolve its frozen conflicts. But Putin accused Tbilisi of seeking instead to use military might -- something he called a "big mistake."

Putin accused unnamed nations of pushing North Korea talks into impasse

Russia, he added, is not seeking to incorporate Georgia's breakaway regions.

"As for including any [additional] territories in the Russian Federation, I must say that we do not seek to expand our territory," Putin said. "Even after the disintegration of the Soviet Union, Russia remains the largest country in the world in terms of territory. We have enough of our own territory."

But while stressing that Russia recognized all countries' territorial integrity, he stated that people also had the right to self-determination.

Putin was quizzed on another hot-button foreign-affairs issue -- the deadlock over North Korea's nuclear-weapons program.

He accused some of the countries taking part in the negotiation process of pushing the talks into an impasse.

"I think one of the reasons [why North Korea conducted a nuclear weapon test] is that not all parties in the negotiation process were able to find the right tone for conducting these negotiations," Putin said. "You must never drive the situation into an impasse and never push one of the parties in a situation from which it can find no way out other than exacerbating the situation."

He said North Korea has sent "signals" that it is ready to return to six-party talks and called on negotiations to resume.

Putin also addressed Russia's relations with other former Soviet countries.

"We should move not only toward coordination but also toward integration, primarily in the economic area," he said. "And we have mechanisms to achieve that goal. We're talking about multispeed integration processes that include the Single Economic Space, the Eurasian Economic Community, and the Collective Security Treaty in the defense area."

Cooperation with CIS countries, he said, is Russia's absolute foreign-policy priority.

Putin maintained an air of composure throughout the session, jotting notes and addressing questioners by name.

The Controversial Rape 'Joke'

He addressed his recent remarks about the rape accusations against Israel's President Moshe Katsav. Putin's remark that he "envied" Katsav was made off record, but was widely reported in the press afterward.

Instead of apologizing for his remarks, however, Putin put the blame squarely on the journalists, and made a dark allusion to his former career as a KGB officer.

"I did in fact make a comment on this matter when the Israeli prime minister was visiting me," Putin said. "However, the journalists were already leaving the room and overhead something being said and then began talking about it. So, to put an end to this talk, I will frankly give you my position now. With respect to representatives of the press, I can say it the way we used to joke at the time I worked at a completely different organization -- they should have been watching, but they eavesdropped instead. That's not nice."

(RFE/RL's Russian Service contributed to this report.)

Russia Beyond 2008

Russia Beyond 2008

President Putin is mulling his political future (epa)

THE 2008 QUESTION: President Vladimir Putin's second term of office ends in the spring of 2008. Since the Russian Constitution bars him from seeking a third consecutive term, this event threatens to present a crisis in a country that has a history of managed power transitions. Already, Russian politics are dominated by the ominous 2008 question.
RFE/RL's Washington office hosted a briefing to discuss the prospects of Putin seeking a third term. The featured speakers were RFE/RL Communications Director Don Jensen and political scientist Peter Reddaway of George Washington University.


Listen to Don Jensen's presentation (about 16 minutes):
Real Audio Windows Media


Listen to Peter Reddaway's presentation (about 35 minutes):
Real Audio Windows Media


Will Putin Pursue Third Term, Or Will It Pursue Him?

Could Yakunin Be 'First-Called' As Putin's Successor?

Putin Again Says He Won't Run For Third Term But Will 'Work' For Russia

Interview: Former Premier Kasyanov Warns Of Political Crisis

Former Premier Kasyanov Announces Run For President


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