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Russia’s prime minister and one of the presidential candidates, Vladimir Putin, on Thursday started his call-in marathon on television with an answer to the "inconvenient" questions about the recent demonstrations of protest against election abuses and about the relationship of the authorities and society as a whole. In general, this question-and-answer session, held for the tenth time, differed from the previous ones with a considerable number of unpleasant questions, to which, incidentally, Putin proved obviously well-prepared.
The results of the elections, according to Putin, certainly reflected the real balance of forces in the country, and protests were a normal phenomenon, if they remained within the legal framework. "The fact that people express their point of view is an absolutely normal thing, as long as they are within the law," Putin said, adding that he was happy, when he saw young people who had their own position and were able to articulate it. "I'm glad, if this is a result of the Putin regime."
"As for the fact the Opposition is unhappy (about election results) - there is nothing new about that," said the prime minister. "It has always been that way and it will always be," he said. "The opposition is struggling for power and seeking every opportunity to get closer to the current authorities, to blame, and to point to its mistakes - this is normal," said Putin. The Opposition will always claim that the elections were unfair, but the form in which this message is expressed is a question of political culture.”
Putin made a number of caustic comments on the participants in demonstrations. About the white ribbons that have become a symbol of protest, Putin said that they looked like a symbol of the fight against AIDS: "They were hanging like some contraceptives." He also talked about the color revolutions. It’s all pretty clear about them, he said. "It’s a well-practiced scheme of decentralization of society, which emerged all by itself". And this, he said, is unacceptable.
Putin believes that "the attacks on the elections are of secondary importance."
"The main goal is the election of the president," he said. In order to avoid speculations about what sort of election it would be, honest or dishonest, he suggested planting web cameras at all polling stations in the country that would be transmitting the signal through the Internet live. This would let the whole country see what is happening at each ballot box and stop any talk of fraud.
Responding to a question about his attitude to the publication of photos by Kommersant-Vlast magazine of a ballot paper with an obscene inscription addressed to him, which cost the editor-in-chief his career, Putin assured that the inscription on the ballot paper cast at a polling station in London "very amused and even pleased" him. Putin recalled that when the struggle against terrorists in the North Caucasus was underway, he saw a lot of cartoons of himself and heard nasty things addressed to him, but he was convinced then and remained convinced now about the correctness of his policy. "We know who is now in London: they want to return, but while I'm sitting here, they cannot do that. I'm not offended by them, and I am even grateful they have heeded the call and came to vote in the elections," Putin laughed.
He urged Russians to take a responsible attitude to grass-roots elections to ensure there be no quasi-oligarchs or their representatives in the municipalities. In response to a remark by lawyer Anatoly Kucherena about the lack of a dialogue between the local authorities and citizens Putin recalled his meeting with Alexander Solzhenitsyn. He "paid much attention to the municipal level of government and he was absolutely right," Putin said, adding that it was "the most important level of government that affects the daily lives of people." The prime minister recalled that now the issue was being addressed of redistribution of powers and funding between the center and regions. The local authorities "should be self-sufficient for the solution of their tasks, but even in that case they should not be soulless," Putin said.
The prime minster spoke about the achievements made since 2000. In general, Russia has as "a healthy economy," Putin said. A key indicator of economic health is the level of unemployment, which has fallen below pre-crisis levels. The same applies to debts: Russia's foreign debt is now 2.5% - "almost nothing".
Speaking about further problems, Putin pointed to the need for strengthening the political system - it should be self-sufficient and "resistible to any impostors from the outside." It is also necessary to expand the credibility of the authorities, to develop economy, promote innovation, and, of course, develop the social sphere.
Putin considers it possible to restore the direct elections of governors and members of the Federation Council, but only on the condition the "presidential filter" stays in place. The prime minister suggested a compromise: the party that has won the regional elections would propose its gubernatorial candidates to the president, who would send them through his "presidential filter" and return to the region, where the residents would select one of the remaining candidates.
Putin said the same approach might be made to the formation of the Federation Council.
He sees his main goal in the modernization of the country and society to bring it to a qualitatively new level of development. "This will be my most important task, if the citizens entrust me with this job," said Putin.
Putin disagreed with those who think that the main problems of the state have been addressed already. "Should you let things go loose just a little bit, and then many will understand what sort of difficulties there exist today, when they will have not to go to some square to demonstrate, but to step into the line of fire to fight the terrorists," he said. According to the prime minister, the risk of economic shocks, in particular, those related to unemployment growth and inflation remained. "Then we shall have to discuss not the ways of increasing pensions, but of raising the retirement age," he said.
Responding to a question about whether he would return to his team the former finance minister, Alexei Kudrin, who was sacked by President Dmitry Medvedev, Putin called him a friend and said that he had never left his team. "I am proud that I had such a man working in my government." He was twice recognized "the best economist in the world," Putin said. "Yes, we did have some disagreements, but, in general, fundamentally, people like Kudrin think globally, strategically, and look into the future. Such people are certainly needed in the current government, and will be needed in the future.”
Hostile forces in the West, comparing Putin to Gaddafi, wish to oust Russia from the international scene, Putin said, commenting on U.S. Senator John McCain’s recent statement. "I've heard these comments. Actually, he said that not about me. This was said with regard to Russia – some would like to push Russia to the sidelines, where it would not interfere with their domination of the globe," he said.
"They are still afraid of our nuclear potential, Russia is an annoyance. In addition, we conduct an independent foreign policy. This, of course, is a hindrance to some," Putin added, stressing that Russia in the West had "more friends than enemies."
The head of government recalled some details of the U.S. senator’s biography. "Mr. McCain, as is known, was taken prisoner in Vietnam. And he spent there several years in jail, not just in jail, but in a pit. This can send anyone out of mind - so there is nothing special about this," Putin said.
MOSCOW, December 15