Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin says the country is stronger, wealthier and more stable under his leadership, despite mass anti-government protests in recent weeks.
Putin's 12-year rule has now been rocked by voter unrest
In a live televised call-in question-and-answer session on Thursday, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said he remains untroubled by a wave of protests that shook his twelve year dominance. He called on voters to re-elect him to the presidential position in March 2012, saying the country has become stronger, wealthier and more stable under his leadership.
In the annual broadcast, Putin sought to show viewers his public image was still intact despite allegations of fraud in the December 4 legislative election.
In mass demonstrations around the country, angry Russians have vented disapproval of Putin's longstanding rule and alleged election fraud.
Putin 'likes protests'
"The opposition says to people that there is no reason to turn out to vote because the result is going to be fixed. I want to promise you that that is not the case, that nothing is going to be fixed," Putin remarked when asked about corruption within the government.
But he said he had understanding for the protesters: ''It's normal that people express their opinion as long as it's within the framework of the law. I liked it that there were young people actively expressing their opinion'' said Putin. The protests, attended by tens of thousands of Russians around the country, were the largest anti-government uprisings in the past two decades.
In light of mass dissatisfaction and sliding ratings, Putin promised viewers a free and fair election reflecting "the real political situation in the country.'' Intensifying vote monitoring by installing cameras at polling booths was one option offered by the leader during the four-hour broadcast.
Domestic concerns and foreign relations
Questions posed to Putin by call-ins, tweets, email and members of the live audience concentrated on everyday problems faced by Russians, including inept bureaucrats, the rising cost of living, adoption of orphans, police corruption and lack of funding for the arts and education sectors.
Putin won't let demonstrators sour his bid for re-election
Talking about foreign relations, Putin attacked what he called the domination of other countries by the United States, saying that the world was tired of taking orders from Washington. "Sometimes it seems to me that America does not need allies, it needs vassals," said Putin. Russia, he added, would like to be comrades with the United States, but that "people are tired of the dictates of one country."
Putin implicated Washington officials in the killing of Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi. Pentagon officials dismissed the remarks as absurd. "We did not have American boots on the ground in the Libya operation," said spokesman Captain John Kirby. "All our support was done through the air and on the seas."
A Russian 'Arab Spring'?
When asked about a comment made by one of his fiercest critics, John McCain, in which McCain suggested to Russians that the dubious December 4 polls could lead to a Russian version of the Arab Spring, Putin sat stone-faced before replying, "Mr. McCain fought in Vietnam. I think that he has enough blood of peaceful citizens on his hands. It must be impossible for him to live without these disgusting scenes anymore."
Putin, a former agent of the Soviet secret service, the KGB, expressed regret that the leaders of the former Soviet Union did not fight to prevent its collapse two decades ago. "The Soviet Union should have started timely economic reforms and changes as well as reforms to strengthen democratic change in the country," he told viewers. "They should have consistently, fearlessly and steadfastly - without burying their heads in the sand or waving their backsides in the air - fought for the territorial integrity of our country," he remarked.
Author: Jessie Wingard (Reuters, dpa, AFP)
Editor: Michael Lawton