Putin takes charge during interview

Russia's prime minister outlines his political views in lengthy televised phone-in.

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    During the phone-in session, Putin was asked about Georgia, the economy and Obama [EPA]
    Vladimir Putin has done it all before: taken questions from across this massive country and addressed people directly about their fears and concerns. 

    This time it was different. There was a studio audience and eight satellite trucks that could bring the questioners to life on the screen. 

    And it was no longer the Russian president who was talking.

    Putin is the country's prime minister but his live question-and-answer phone-in has left people in doubt about where the power lies in the country.

    The remit for his office is mainly the economy. However, he answered a wide range of topics from international relations and the war in Georgia to the current financial crisis and the likelihood of snowfall.

    Welcoming Obama

    He welcomed the election of Barack Obama in the US, saying there were positive signs that the election could mean a change in relations. 

    George Bush, the US president, once famously described looking into Putin's eyes and seeing into his soul. 

    But relations between the two powers have been strained for some time, not least because of the proposed US plan to build a missile defence shield in eastern Europe, which Russia believes is a threat to its security. 

    Obama has expressed his concerns about pushing ahead with the project.

    "We hear that one should build relations with Russia, taking into account its interests," Putin said.  

    "If these are not just words, if they get transformed into a practical policy, then of course our reaction will be appropriate and our American partners will feel this at once."

    Economy tops questions

    The economy dominated the phone-in question-and-answer session and the Russian leader blamed the US for 'infecting' leading world economies.

    However, he insisted the future for Russia looked promising with rises in pensions and unemployment benefits guaranteed. 

    He also promised the country would weather the global economic crisis with "minimal losses".

    He pledged continued help for South Ossetia and Abkhazia, the two breakaway Georgian regions which Moscow now recognises as independent states.

    "As far as Russia's support is concerned, you know that co-operation agreements have been signed with South Ossetia and Abkhazia and this is the best guarantee that Russia is not going to leave these regions," he told the audience. 

    He neither ruled out nor affirmed rumours that he would return once more to the presidency, insisting he was happy serving his country in his current role.

    Jolly times

    For three hours and ten minutes he answered some 80 questions.

    It all got a bit jolly in the end. Asked where he planned to mark the New Year, he said: "At home." 

    On when it will snow in Russia, he said: "When God pleases." 

    Asked if he was romantic he said: "Partly." 

    When one viewer asked what the prime minister loves the most, Putin answered: "Russia."

    Dmitri Medvedev, the Russian president, has never done anything like this; it really is not his style. 

    For Putin, however, it was easy. 

    He wanted to reassure the country and tell them that conditions would improve.

    And he wanted to make sure everyone knew who is really in charge.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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