Vladimir Putin says he has no intention of putting down protests if they continued after Sunday's presidential vote. The 59-year-old, who is almost sure to win the election, said he would appoint Dmitry Medvedev premier.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said in remarks published Friday from a meeting with Western newspaper editors that he would not order a crackdown on the opposition after national polls which are almost certain to return him to the country's top office.
"Why do I need to do that?" he asked in response to a question about the possibility. "I don't know where these fears come from. We are not planning anything of the kind."
Over the past three months, Russia has experienced the biggest and most enduring protests since the collapse of the Soviet Union, with tens of thousands of people taking to the country's streets. They were prompted by December 4 parliamentary elections, which the opposition said were marred by vote-rigging and should be held again.
Putin even praised the demonstrations, calling them "a good experience for Russia."
"That situation has helped make government structures more capable and has raised the need for them to think, search for solutions and communicate with society," he added.
But he also said he would not call for early parliamentary elections.
He did, however, acknowledge the protests were directed at his party, United Russia, which has a majority in parliament, and he contended that they were not focused on him personally.
Russian security forces have been comparatively soft in dealing with the protests, intervening only rarely. Previously they were known for their heavy-handed manner of quashing dissent.
Putin also said he would appoint the current president, Dmitry Medvedev, prime minister.
The duo has been ruling together since Putin, as president, first made him premier in 2005.
Putin has served two mandates as president, from 2000-2008, the maximum number of consecutive terms allowed.
He told the foreign editors that he couldn't say whether he would run for a fourth term as president, presuming he wins the upcoming election, which pits him against four other candidates.
The law allows Putin to serve another two consecutive terms, which have now been extended from four to six years. That could see him remain in office until 2024, by which point he would be 72 years old.
"I don't know whether I want to stay in the seat for more than 20 years. I haven't yet made this decision," Putin said.
Many people plan to demonstrate on Monday, a day after the poll.
ncy/dfm (Reuters, AP, AFP)