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Putin Promises in Nationally Broadcast Q&A to Raise Pensions, Other Spending

Shuddi Mukhtarov, left, and Zelimkhan Sadulayev watch in Grozny, Chechnya, as Prime Minister Vladimir Putin addresses the nation in a live question-and-answer session.
Shuddi Mukhtarov, left, and Zelimkhan Sadulayev watch in Grozny, Chechnya, as Prime Minister Vladimir Putin addresses the nation in a live question-and-answer session. (By Musa Sadulayev -- Associated Press)

Some analysts said the session was designed to set the stage for Putin to take back his old job as president in an early election, perhaps next year. But speaking to journalists afterward, Putin dismissed the idea, saying he and Medvedev "interact very well" and formed an "effective tandem."

"The next elections in the Russian Federation will be held in 2012. . . . We will have to get through to that time, then we will see," he said, adding that he had no intention of resigning or reshuffling his cabinet. "Running away from your problems has never been my rule."

As in previous years, Putin used the call-in program to present himself as a hands-on manager capable of rattling off statistics and policy minutiae, as well as to position himself above the corruption that plagues much of the government by publicly chastising local officials.

The 72 questions selected this year -- out of 2.5 million received, according to the Kremlin -- allowed Putin to sympathize with people with disabilities, veterans, farmers and the elderly, while condemning pedophiles, monopolists and skinheads. He invited one young girl, who was worried about receiving holiday gifts, to the Kremlin and promised to act on another child's request for a local swimming pool.

On substantive questions, Putin opened the door to further devaluation of the ruble, saying its value would be determined by demand for Russian exports such as oil and metals. But he vowed to use the nation's reserves to avoid any dramatic change. He also said the government might buy stakes in companies on "a large scale" to help them survive the crisis if efforts to funnel $200 billion in funds through state banks are insufficient.

Putin had tough words for Russia's neighbors, threatening to cut off gas supplies to Ukraine in a dispute over gas prices and accusing Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili of starting a war by attacking the separatist region of South Ossetia.

Asked by a caller about French media reports that he had called for Saakashvili to be "hanged by one of his body parts" in a conversation with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Putin paused as the audience laughed. Then, with a sly grin, he replied: "Why by just one part?"


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