Russian President Vladimir Putin talked with Russian citizens Monday in a broadcast that was televised live across Russia. Monday's televised question and answer session was a first for President Putin.
During the two-and-a-half hour telecast, residents of 11 cities throughout Russia asked Mr. Putin questions via satellite broadcast. People could also call with questions or send them over the Internet.
The Russian president opened the program by discussing what he believed his government had accomplished this year.
Mr. Putin said the main task during 2001 was to keep the economy on the right track. Pointing to high economic growth and lower unemployment, he said he was pleased with the results.
But though Mr. Putin was optimistic, the vast majority of his questioners were not. Most expressed concern about their personal economic situation.
One woman from the city of St. Petersburg in southern Russia called to ask for help because her monthly pension is only 1,000 rubles, or about $33.
Mr. Putin said the government has been paying attention to the needs of pensioners in the last two years and promised to look into her situation.
Many of the questioners, when not asking about the economy, discussed such issues as drug use, alcoholism, and legal reform. But there were also some questions about international relations.
Andrei Sobolevsky asked the president about relations between the United States and Russia in the wake of the U.S. withdrawal from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty.
Mr. Putin said the U.S. pullout from the ABM treaty was a mistake but that it did not affect Russian security. He added that despite this withdrawal, he felt that the relationship between the two countries was developing positively.
The Russian president also showed his sense of humor during the broadcast. Mr. Putin was asked by a man from St. Petersburg what he was thinking when he spent the night at President George Bush's ranch in Texas this year. The man specifically wanted to know what it felt like for Mr. Putin, a former KGB agent, to be socializing with a man who was considered his enemy during Soviet times.
Mr. Putin said the current American President's father was the director of the Central Intelligence Agency. So, Mr. Putin said, it was all in the family, and they understood each other well.
The two Russian television stations that hosted the broadcast were inundated with thousands of questions. While Mr. Putin said he enjoyed the show, he didn't commit himself to doing it again in the future.