Putin Tries to Soothe Anxious Russians
By ANDREW OSBORN
MOSCOW -- Prime Minister Vladimir Putin cast himself as a troubleshooting father-of-the-nation figure in a televised appearance that analysts said was designed to calm poorer Russians spooked by the financial crisis.
Mr. Putin reveled in the state-media limelight, joking, comforting the unemployed and promising a new dress to a little girl who phoned in to the question-and-answer session, an exercise that was a hallmark of his presidency, which ended earlier this year.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin struck a fatherly tone in a question-and-answer session on national television on Thursday. Left, viewers in Grozny, Chechnya, and at right, in Moscow.
Mr. Putin was reaching out to low-income Russians, said political analyst Gleb Pavlovsky -- an audience he said the prime minister connects with better than his successor, Dmitry Medvedev. "People needed this [the crisis] explained to them," Mr. Pavlovsky said.
Mr. Putin also ruled out a return to the Kremlin before 2012, scotching speculation that Mr. Medvedev would be a temporary fixture. A move earlier this year to amend the constitution and extend the presidential term for future leaders to six years from four fueled speculation that Mr. Putin wants his old job back. On Thursday, Mr. Putin dismissed that idea -- at least in the short term.
"The next election is in 2012," he said. "We will have to get through to that time, then we will see."
Mr. Putin called his political partnership with Mr. Medvedev "very effective." His own role as premier and leader of the ruling United Russia party allowed him to get legislation through parliament rapidly, a boon at a time of crisis, he added.
During the phone-in, which lasted three hours and was broadcast live on state TV and radio, Mr. Putin mentioned Mr. Medvedev only once. His own performance topped evening news bulletins. Mr. Medvedev, who is on a visit to India, got much sparser coverage.
Supporters said Mr. Putin spoke as national leader, and that his remit is broader than that of a normal Russian premier. "Defense and foreign policy are technically the responsibility of the president," said Sergei Markov, a pro-Kremlin lawmaker. "But Mr. Putin said a lot on both."
The prime minister said he hoped strained U.S.-Russia relations would improve under Barack Obama, and critiqued Ukraine for overdue gas payments.
Though the session appeared to be carefully stage-managed, there was no obvious attempt to paper over the financial crisis, which state media has repeatedly played down.
The first person to call said he had a young family and was jobless. "What are we supposed to do?" he asked. A somber Mr. Putin, unfazed by that and similar questions, detailed government measures to help, including increases in welfare checks. Russia's gold and foreign-currency reserves, the world's third largest, would ensure "a soft landing," he added. He stressed that the crisis was a global phenomenon that had started in the U.S. And he didn't pretend it would be short-lived, saying most experts thought a recovery would only happen in spring 2010.