There was laughter a-plenty during President Putin’s latest annual news conference, an over three and a half hour live television broadcast. Putin was asked who will follow him into the Kremlin in 2008. “I’ve already spoken about this a number of times,” the Russian president said. “Next year there will be no inheritors, there will be candidates for the job of Russian president.”
Putin reserved to right to express his opinion about the candidates, but he insisted he would only do this in the pre-election campaign. He also made conciliatory noises towards Belarus, Ukraine and Georgia, praised Russia’s economic resurgence, and for the first time personally endorsed the idea of an OPEC-style gas cartel.
However he was critical of America’s anti-missile shield project to build a central European base, and rejected accusations that Russia was using its gas market dominance as a political weapon. Ordinary people seemed to have mixed reactions: “Maybe Putin will run again, and if not then we will have a worthy successor who will continue Putin’s work,” said one pensioner.
A businessman said: “I like it when he’s speaking, but then you look around and see what’s happening in life you start to think how real it all is.” Other questions fielded by Putin included the recent mysterious deaths of two Kremlin critics, gay rights, agricultural subsidies, and television for the deaf.