Putin addresses parliament amid presidency speculation

AFP , Wednesday 20 Apr 2011

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin delivered an annual address to the parliament Wednesday amid a fresh flurry of rumours about his plans to seek the presidency next year

Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin addresses the parliament, in Moscow, Wednesday, April 20, 2011. Putin said in an annual address to the State Duma that a key lesson of the global financial crisis is that vulnerability to economic shocks could undermine national sovereignty. He said that Russia must be "independent and strong" to resist outside pressure. AP

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin opened what was expected to a marathon session stretching over several hours by outlining the country's economic achievements and focusing on new models of growth.

"I believe that it is our joint achievement that Russia -- in this very difficult period of global crisis -- managed to avoid serious shocks and risks," he told the special State Duma lower house of parliament session.

"We did not shy away from our responsibilities before the country -- we took the full responsibility on ourselves," he added to a round of applause.

Putin also predicted annual growth this year of at least 4.2 percent of gross domestic product -- in line with government expectations announced in 2010.

But the message is being particularly closely watched for signs of any divisions between himself and President Dmitry Medvedev amid indications that both men are willing to seek the top Kremlin post next year.

Medvedev unexpectedly raised the presidential election issue earlier this month by telling a Chinese television channel that he will make up his mind about whether or not to run shortly.

Both he and Putin -- the so-called Russian "tandem" who identify themselves as very close colleagues -- had previously ruled out running against each other and vowed to decide on a singly candidacy between themselves in private.

Most analysts view Putin as the senior partner and believe that he will make the ultimate decision about which if them should seek the six-year term -- a constitutional extension of the four years now served by presidents.

Putin responded to Medvedev's comments by arguing that the decision should not be rushed because an early announcement would leave half of Russia's current administrators feeling left out and therefore ineffective at their jobs.

Several Moscow newspapers predicted Wednesday that Putin would be not be addressing the election directly but rather outline his achievements in what could otherwise be read as a pre-election address.

Putin's top spokesman has confirmed that the prime minister will know 23 of the 32 questions lawmakers will pose after the speech as the Duma's rules stipulate that most of the queries are submitted beforehand in writing.

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