Russian President Vladimir Putin on
Saturday vowed to step down in
2008 and said he would recommend his successor fight poverty and ensure
strong economic growth, said experts who attended a lunch with the
|Russian President Vladimir Putin steps
downstairs in this undated photo.
Putin spoke for nearly four hours to a group of about 50 foreign
experts over lunch at his Novo-Ogaryovo residency outside Moscow,
according to people who attended the meeting.
"The most interesting point was that he reiterated that he does not
plan to run again for office
in 2008 as he believes he has a moral duty not to break the constitution,"
said Angela Stent, director of the center for Eurasian, Russian and East
European Studies at Georgetown University in Washington.
A Kremlin spokesman confirmed the meeting but said he could not
immediately give comments.
Putin, 53, declined to give any details about who could succeed him in
2008, when he must step down after two four-year terms in office. Because
the Kremlin has so much power, the issue of his successor is the hottest
political topic in Russia.
During the lunch of artichoke soup, octopus carpaccio and sea bass,
Putin did not say what he would do after he stepped down but at one point
even expressed weariness with politics and said he had not been successful
in rooting out corruption.
Answering dozens of questions, Putin ranged across foreign and domestic
policy, speaking out against sanctions on Iran, implicitly opposing
independence for Kosovo and heaping praise on Ukraine's President Viktor
He said it was his job to improve relations with the United States,
which have cooled because of differences over gas supplies to Europe,
accession to the World Trade Organization and competition for allies among
But he criticized Bush's "bad advisors" and said the European Union
"was very difficult to deal with," although the Kremlin wanted a closer
partnership with it, people at the meeting said. He also praised Russia's
relationship with China.