Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin says his country's economy is improving rapidly.

Putin said Friday that Russia "has managed to overcome the recession in a relatively short time."  Speaking at an investor forum in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Putin predicted a 4.4 percent growth rate for the Russian economy this year.  That compares to an eight percent decline in 2009.

He said the Russian economy, recovering from its worst recession in 15 years, had improved "because people felt that the government sought to protect their interests."

Nonetheless, Putin acknowledged foreign investors have largely bypassed Russia. Foreign investors have pumped only $30 billion into Russia's $1.2 trillion economy in the first half of  2010.

He said Russia would welcome capital investments in Russian banks from "solid financial institutions" in the United States and Europe.

Putin said his country's inflation rate would drop to seven percent this year, compared to 13 percent two years ago.

The prime minister's comments came as some Russian analysts speculated that he might attempt to run for president again in 2012.  Putin stepped down from the presidency in 2008 after serving two consecutive terms, the maximum allowed under the Russian constitution.

President Dmitry Medvedev has been the Russian leader since then, but the constitution does not prevent Putin's return to the presidency after a term away from the office.

Mr. Medvedev last week gave a more pessimistic outlook on the Russian economy, saying that Russia's emergence from its economic woes might only be temporary.