Putin reaffirms his position in the Russian government during call-in show

MOSCOW (AP) – Vladimir Putin’s annual TV call-in show revealed just how much Russian politics have become a one-man show.

Over the three-hour session Thursday, Putin showcased the booming economy, belittled America’s troubles in Iraq and pledged to modernize the armed forces – implicitly projecting himself as the man who has restored Russia to greatness.

The tightly choreographed event underscored a dominance that had led many people to predict he plans to remain in control even after giving up the presidency next year.

Putin, who is wildly popular among Russians for the stability and relative prosperity he helped engineer and has used his five previous call-in shows, along with lavish television coverage of his travels and speeches, to project an image of a leader responding directly to voters’ concerns.

Some observers said Putin’s comments essentially were campaign rhetoric, designed to whip up votes for his United Russia party and telling voters exactly what they want to hear – pensions are rising, military spending is going up, the economy is strengthening.

He sought to reassure the public about his departure, saying his successor should “keep the stable course of our nation and continuity in realizing the plans that have been devised in recent years.”

Questions came from teachers, students, scientists, farmers and doctors from across Russia’s 11 time zones – starting in the nation’s Far East and ending in the Western European frontier.

Most were nonconfrontational, focusing on bread-and-butter issues like pensions or public sector funding. It was impossible, however, to tell whether those asking had been screened or coached ahead of time. One woman caller thanked Putin profusely – without asking a question.