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Putin answers public's questions on Russian t -

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SHANE MCLEOD: Lots of countries have end-of-year television specials. In Russia what's becoming a
December TV staple is not a carols by candlelight concert but a question and answer chat between
Vladimir Putin and the nation.

For the eighth year the former Russian president and now Prime Minister has gone on TV to talk
about the big issues in a live but highly orchestrated broadcast.

This year he's touched on everything from fighting terrorism to surviving the economic crisis.

As Moscow correspondent Scott Bevan reports, despite all the talk Vladimir Putin didn't fully
commit to whether he'll be running for president again in 2012.

SCOTT BEVAN: In Moscow, there are a number of key indicators that the end of the year is
approaching. The weather is the most obvious as the capital is usually covered in snow but not this
year. A few days into winter and not a flake is to be found on the ground.

So Mother Nature has been unreliable in marking the end of this year. Thank goodness then for the
Russian Prime Minister.

(Sound of Vladimir Putin speaking, applause)

In what's developing into an annual tradition Vladimir Putin has sat in front of an audience of
several hundred and a potentially far larger television audience to answer questions submitted from
across Russia.

Now while kids around the world scribble a note to Santa at this time of the year, many Russians it
seems would prefer to write, email or phone in a question to Mr Putin, going by the TV hosts'
tallying of submissions received.

TV HOST (translated): We've beaten a telecommunications record. We're over the two million mark.

SCOTT BEVAN: The first question was about the terrorism threat in Russia, which is a wound that's
been reopened after Friday's derailment of an express train between Moscow and Saint Petersburg,
killing 26. Authorities say a bomb caused the disaster.

Vladimir Putin told the audience the threat of terrorism remained very high and that not just the
Government but all Russians should be vigilant in order to prevent attacks.

(Sound of Vladimir Putin speaking)

"We've done a lot of work to break the back of terrorism but the threat isn't eliminated yet," he
said.

During the phone-in many issues were raised from fighting corruption to why Russia hadn't made the
2010 football World Cup.

But one subject threaded through the broadcast was how regional Russia had been responding to the
ravages of the financial crisis, giving Mr Putin plenty of opportunities to assure that the economy
was improving.

The carefully staged production crossed to car workers on the factory floor in central Russia, to
miners in Siberia and to the residents of Pikalyovo who put their town on the map in June when they
staged a sit-in on a main road in protest at not being paid for months by the local factories.

Back then Mr Putin flew in, offered support for the workers and ordered the factory owners to put
things right. Yet one Pikalyovo worker indicated he'd be pleased to see the PM come to the rescue
again.

PIKALYOVO WORKER (translated): We work and live only for today. Vladimir Vladimirovich, what should
we do? Maybe we have to wait for you to come again and solve the problem?

SCOTT BEVAN: Mr Putin said he would return if need be.

Actually the Prime Minister received a lot of requests, ranging from pensioners seeking a review of
their entitlements to students asking for computers for their school. He was even prompted to pass
on birthday wishes.

VLADIMIR PUTIN (translated): Dear Tatyana, happy 55th birthday. With all my heart, I wish you
success.

SCOTT BEVAN: During the broadcast, which lasted for four hours and one minute, Vladimir Putin
answered 80 questions and accepted the praise and thanks of the chosen few who managed to get
through to the PM.

(Sound of Vladimir Putin speaking)

"I'm glad the number of my friends is growing," he said at one point.

But Vladimir Putin wouldn't say outright if he was willing to test the friendship by running again
for president in 2012.

(Sound of Vladimir Putin speaking)

"I'll think about that. There's still time," he replied to the "will you run?" question from a
student. Mr Putin went on to say he had a job to do now and that it would be the greatest mistake
to make the current job dependent on the interests of a future election campaign.

NIKOLAY PETROV: I would be surprised if he'll be not the next president of Russia.

SCOTT BEVAN: Nikolay Petrov is a scholar and political analyst from the Carnegie Moscow Center. He
says the televised phone-in reinforces the idea in the minds of many Russians that while Dmitry
Medvedev is the current President, Vladimir Putin is their leader.

NIKOLAY PETROV: Today it looks like Mr Putin almost agreed that he will participate in next
presidential election.

SCOTT BEVAN: With this year's televised phone-in setting a new record for time on air one is left
wondering just how many hours Vladimir Putin could chat with the nation if he's the Russian
president once more.

This is Scott Bevan in Moscow for The World Today.