Similarly, Mr. Putin swept aside a remark by Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, who said that as a former K.G.B. officer, Mr. Putin “has no soul.” “As a minimum, a state official must at least have a head,” he said.
Mr. Putin said that the organization needed to be overhauled, and suggested that the monitors intended to teach Russia how to become democratic. “Let them teach their wives to make shchi,” he said. Shchi is a popular Russian cabbage soup.
Mr. Putin also flashed his annoyance when asked about reports in Western newspapers that he had used his office to accumulate a vast personal fortune. Such “rumors,” he said, “they picked from a nose and smeared onto their papers.”
President Putin Talks of the Future as Premier
Putin Q&A: international agenda (Russia Today Video): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zKg2-ny7k8I
President Vladimir V. Putin, in the final weeks of an eight-year administration that secured his place as the country’s most popular politician, said Thursday that he intended to wield substantial and long-running power in the Kremlin after leaving office next month and becoming Russia’s prime minister. In a confident and forceful public performance in which he described many of Russia’s continuing policy choices, Mr. Putin spoke bitingly of his international critics and defied Washington by refusing to back down from threats to aim strategic missiles at the Czech Republic, Poland and Ukraine. He said the Kremlin had been forced to assume a reinvigorated nuclear defense by NATO’s courting of Ukraine and by the United States’ development of a missile defense system for deployment in Europe. “We will have to retarget our missiles on the objects that we think threaten our national security,” he said. “I have to speak about this directly and honestly, so that there would be no attempts to shift the responsibility for such developments on those who should not be blamed.”
Mr. Putin appeared in public for more than four hours in what the Kremlin billed as his final news conference as president. Under Russia’s Constitution, he cannot seek a third consecutive term, and a new president will be selected on March 2 by popular vote. But the event had none of the trappings of a farewell performance, and it did little to suggest Mr. Putin was yielding his position as Russia’s unrivaled leader. He reiterated his intention to become prime minister and to lead the government of his presumptive successor, whom he had selected himself, Dmitri A. Medvedev. He also implied that Mr. Medvedev would follow the course that he had set.
“The president is the guarantor of the Constitution,” Mr. Putin said. “He sets the main directions for internal and external policies. But the highest executive power in the country is the Russian government, led by the premier.” He later added that he planned to be the prime minister throughout Mr. Medvedev’s administration, and perhaps beyond. “I formulated tasks for the development of Russia from 2010 until 2020,” he said. “The fate is taking shape in a way that I have a possibility to participate directly in achievement of these goals.” The conference also underscored the degree to which Mr. Putin continued to eclipse Mr. Medvedev. Although Russia is in the middle of the official one-month presidential campaign, there is little sign of competing ideas or public involvement in choosing the next president. And Mr. Putin is not fading from view.
Last week, he addressed Russia’s lawmakers with his plans for the country through 2020. On Thursday he threatened to escalate a dispute with Europe and the United States over the future of Kosovo, which is expected to declare its independence next week, with support from the West. Russia has backed its traditional ally, Serbia, and opposed Kosovo’s independence. It has threatened to protest the move at the United Nations Security Council and perhaps to recognize breakaway regions it supports in Moldova and Georgia. “We are told all the time, ‘Kosovo is a special case,’ ” Mr. Putin said. “It is all lies. There is no special case, and everybody understands it perfectly well.”
The conference, a question-and-answer format, has been an annual event in which Mr. Putin has often displayed his comfort with power and a command of the fine details of governing. The audience was a mixture of Russian reporters, many openly praising the Russian president, and foreign journalists, several of them pressing him on policies that have alarmed Western governments and undermined his reputation abroad. Mr. Putin basked in the praise and seemed to revel in the criticism, which he rebutted with a mix of long, unapologetic answers and occasional insults. When asked about the decision of the principal international election monitors not to send missions to observe the presidential elections, Mr. Putin was dismissive.
The monitors, from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, have routinely found that elections in post-Soviet autocracies, including Russia, have been rigged. And they have said that Russia has unilaterally imposed conditions that make it impossible to assess the current campaign and election fully. Mr. Putin said that the organization needed to be overhauled, and suggested that the monitors intended to teach Russia how to become democratic. “Let them teach their wives to make shchi,” he said. Shchi is a popular Russian cabbage soup. Similarly, Mr. Putin swept aside a remark by Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, who said that as a former K.G.B. officer, Mr. Putin “has no soul.” “As a minimum, a state official must at least have a head,” he said.
Mr. Putin also flashed his annoyance when asked about reports in Western newspapers that he had used his office to accumulate a vast personal fortune. Such “rumors,” he said, “they picked from a nose and smeared onto their papers.” The conference alternated between these occasionally scalding moments and others in which Mr. Putin, answering questions from admiring Russian journalists, was at ease and treated with public fealty. One young woman noted that the conference was held on Valentine’s Day, and asked whether Mr. Putin had received a gift. He said he had been busy doing his morning exercises and preparing for the conference, and had not yet received any presents. The reporter then grinned and said she would like to give him a Valentine, and he invited her to pass it down to him through the crowd.
At another point, a French journalist asked Mr. Putin if he thought that the official results recorded in Chechnya during parliamentary elections in December were realistic. According to the Central Election Commission, the voter turnout in Chechnya was 99 percent, and 99 percent of the voters cast their ballots for United Russia, the party Mr. Putin leads. Chechnya sought to break from Russia in the early 1990s, and waged a long insurgency for which it has been intensely punished. Past elections there have been openly rigged, and the latest results were viewed in the West and among Mr. Putin’s domestic critics as unashamedly fake. Mr. Putin, looking confident, asked a state journalist from Chechnya to answer the question. “These are absolutely realistic figures,” the journalist said. “Personally, all my acquaintances, including myself, voted for United Russia.”