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Putin once again muddies waters on his future

Vladimir Putin once again managed to throw Kremlin watchers into a tizz, by giving another cryptic answer to the question of what he intends to do in 2008 when his second term as President runs out.

Asked if there should be a referendum about whether he should run for a third term, Putin replied:

“I see my task as to create the conditions for the country’s long-term development. Therefore I view any radical changes to the law, above all the Russian Federation’s constitution, as inadvisable.”

“My task as I see it is not to sit in the Kremlin for ever, so that people always see the same face on the TV, on channels one, two or three. As for me personally, as they say in the military: ‘I’ll find my place in line’.”

And then, as if he hadn’t done enough, when someone later asked him to elaborate, he added:

”Let’s preserve the intrigue”

I’m still pretty certain he’s not going to stand for President again in 2008 – although I wouldn’t necessarily rule out a campaign in 2012 – but really wouldn’t be surprised to see a fudge which allows him to remain in a powerfully influential role, a la Jiang Zemin in China. But, let’s face it, I’m as much in the dark as every other Kremlinologist

Reaction in Russia to his televised performance – his fourth in as many years – seems positive. RIA Novosti political commentator Vasily Kononenko was particularly impressed that Putin had reconfirmed his image as a responsible leader:

I will point out what seemed most important to me. During the three-hour call-in show Putin demonstrated that he was in excellent physical shape. He showed high erudition, and responded without hesitation to the most challenging questions. For example, he answered a question about the situation in the university of the transpolar town of Vorkuta. When asked about the luxurious private residences that are being built with public money in republics in the south of Russia, the president showed that he is on top of this situation as well. He admitted that theft was taking place, but promised that this evil would be dealt with.

International commentators were somewhat less kind, however. Nick Paton Walsh of The Guardian noted that:

Mr Putin yesterday appeared distracted and tired at times when answering 60 questions sent in by SMS, email and a link-up with 12 Russian towns.

The overall impression I got of the interview was that it was yet another piece of inconsequential fluff, put out for public consumption, an impression reinforced by incidents where Putin, when asked about a minor local issue, puffed out his chest and firmly stated that he, personally, would act to resolve the situation by telling someone else to do something:

In a letter, Karachentseva wrote that she and other villagers had to walk 300 meters to the nearest well to bring water to their houses, despite the fact that money to build a water pipe system had been promised from the regional budget.

“The issue of submitting candidacies for your governor’s post is being considered now,” Putin said. “The documents for the incumbent governor are ready, but have not been sent. And they will not be sent, until he solves this problem.”

This is all very well, but the best thing that Putin could do for Russia right now is to once and for all end the speculation over his future and set a precedent for tranparent politics.

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