- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 25, 2006

MOSCOW — President Vladimir Putin reaffirmed yesterday that he would not try to run for another term but said he would retain influence over Russia even after leaving office in 2008.

The immensely popular Mr. Putin is constitutionally barred from seeking a third consecutive term, but supporters have called for a referendum to amend the country’s laws to allow him to stay in power.

“Despite the fact that I like my job, the constitution doesn’t allow me to run a third time in a row,” Mr. Putin said during a nationally televised question-and-answer session.

With his popularity high, Mr. Putin sees the session — his fifth since taking office in 2000 — as an opportunity to show that he can respond directly to voters’ concerns. He said the trust that Russians have in him will allow him to keep influencing the country after his presidency.

“Even having lost the powers and the levers of presidential power and not tailoring the basic law according to my personal interests, I will manage to retain the most important thing that a person involved in politics must cherish — your trust,” he said. “And using that, you and I will be able to exert influence on the life of our country and guarantee its development.”

After the question-and-answer session, Russian news agencies quoted Mr. Putin as telling reporters that he was not prepared to name his successor but that when he was, he would make his choice known through the press.

Speculation on the successor is focused on Defense Minister Sergey Ivanov and Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.

The Russian leader also hailed the oil-rich country’s robust economic growth rate of about 7 percent and vowed that the killers of a top Central Bank regulator and a well-known investigative journalist would be brought to justice.

During the broadcast, Mr. Putin reeled off statistics, chided North Korea for its nuclear test, pledged to protect agricultural producers and vowed that his government would strictly monitor all companies, including foreign ones, for environmental violations.

Dressed in a dark blue suit and striped tie and seated at a rectangular table, the Russian president gestured and pointed as he fielded questions, as if giving a lecture.

The killings of Central Bank regulator Andrei Kozlov and investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya have stoked fears that Russia is returning to the violence of the 1990s, when business disputes were commonly resolved through shootings and bombings.

Mr. Putin said that contract killings had declined in recent years and that authorities were becoming more successful in cracking down on financial crimes.

He answered questions posed by correspondents from the state-run television network speaking for small crowds in cities across the vast country, as well as questions sent via phone, e-mail and text messaging.

It was impossible to tell whether the questions were arranged in advance or questioners coached. During past question-and-answer sessions, critics said authorities and state television reporters screened questions and selected audiences to go live with Mr. Putin.

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