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Vladimir Putin was to hold the last annual news conference of his eight-year presidency Thursday, taking dozens of questions from more than 1,000 Russian and foreign journalists packing a big Kremlin auditorium.
Displaying a command of details, Putin has used the yearly marathon event to point to his accomplishments, set out goals and bolster his already strong popularity by joking with journalists. He has asserted Russia’s determination to stand up to what he casts as pressure from the West.
As usual, it was to be televised live on two state-run channels.
This year’s news conference takes place two weeks before the March 2 presidential election that Putin’s hand-picked successor, Dmitry Medvedev, appears certain to win. Putin, who must step down in May, is sure to be asked about his political future.
He has said he would accept Medvedev’s offer to serve as prime minister, allowing him to maintain a powerful role in ruling Russia. Putin could use the post as a springboard back to the presidency in 2012 - possibly even earlier - or he could stay on just long enough to ensure a smooth transition.
Foreign media may also be interested in his vision of Russia’s relations with the West during a Medvedev presidency. Ties have sunk to a post-Cold War low point, strained by disputes over issues ranging from NATO’s expansion and US missile defense plans to Putin’s treatment of political opponents and Kremlin critics.
Putin has lashed out at the United States and the West during previous news conferences.
But the bulk of the questions will come from Russian journalists who traveled from far and wide for the gathering in the Kremlin’s Round Hall. Many past questions from provincial press have dealt with local issues - creating the impression that only Putin can solve problems created or ignored by lower-level officials.
Others were likely to be softballs.
In the past, journalists have asked Putin how he manages to look so good and what he does when he’s feeling down.
The news conference is one of a number of annual televised events - also including a state-of-the-nation speech and call-in show - that Putin has used to burnish his image as a competent, caring president in control of a resurgent country with a growing economy and global clout.
The event tests the stamina of both the president and the media: Last year it went on for more than 3½ hours. More than 1,350 journalists were accredited this year, but not all of them were attending. (AP)
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