Russia's President Vladimir Putin has announced he will run for re-election in next year's presidential balloting, scheduled for March. During a nationally televised question-and-answer session with the Russian public, President Putin also answered questions on subjects ranging from pensions to prison reform.
One hundred telephone operators worked round-the-clock since Sunday, collecting the questions President Vladimir Putin was to answer during a more than three hour live question and answer session broadcast on Russian radio and television Thursday.
It is the third time during his presidency that Mr. Putin has taken to the airwaves to answer questions from ordinary citizens in towns and villages across Russia.
President Putin was asked about everything from communal housing to salaries and pensions. But the question on most people's minds was whether Mr. Putin is going to run for re-election.
The Russian president told the questioner from Krasnodar that he would definitely be a candidate.
The Russian president said he is going to run and that he expects to make a more formal announcement in the next few days.
President Putin has an approval rating over 70 percent and is widely expected to win a second term, which, according to the Russian Constitution, would be his last.
Mr. Putin also said that all the achievements in Russia in the past year were due in great part, as he put it, to the strength of the Russian people.
As in the past two years, most of the calls came from senior citizens, many of whom live in dilapidated communal apartments on pensions that are often delayed. University students were also frequent callers, as were Russian soldiers.
President Putin told soldiers by video-link to a Russian air base in the Kyrgyz town of Kan that he would work to see their salaries made equal to those of Russia's civil servants. He also said that Russia would press ahead with privatization and pension reform.
On the question of territorial integrity, in neighboring Georgia in particular, President Putin said Russia had overcome challenges to its own sovereignty and would not stand in the way of another country's. He said that as a member of the United Nations, Russia has no right to encourage separatism.
He was less conciliatory when it came to a question about Russia's relations with the United States regarding Iraq.
Mr. Putin said that, while Russia is a partner which supports the U.S.-led war against terrorism, he said Iraq was a different matter. He said there were no international terrorists there and that the use of force - without authorization by the United Nation's Security Council - was neither fair, nor justified.
The comments came hours before President Putin was expected to meet at the Kremlin with U.S. special envoy, James Baker, who is expected to ask Russia to forgive at least a portion of Iraq's debts.
Mr. Putin answered the questions with confidence and aplomb until he got a question from a six-year-old girl.
The girl asked the Russian President why she should obey adults?
The president, who has two teenaged daughters of his own, smiled and cast his eyes upward as if searching for an answer. He then said that he was sure all the adults around her wanted only her happiness and that is why she should obey and trust adults.
The Russian president was also asked how he felt about having his picture on display in the offices of so many bureaucrat's? Again, he smiled, and said it was okay with him. I understand, Mr. Putin added, that I am a state symbol like the flag or Russia's coat of arms. He also said he felt he was to blame that so few Russians know the words to the national anthem and he announced plans for a new program to promote national symbols.