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Last Updated: Thursday, 18 October 2007, 12:59 GMT 13:59 UK
Putin wants US date to quit Iraq
Russian President Vladimir Putin. File photo
It is President Putin's sixth phone-in since coming to office
Russian President Vladimir Putin has said the US should set a date for a withdrawal from Iraq.

He was speaking during a live televised question-and-answer session with the public covering both domestic and foreign policy issues.

Mr Putin said that as long as the US avoided setting a pull-out date, the Iraqi leadership "won't rush to build up its own security forces".

He also said Russia planned "grandiose" improvements to its armed forces.

New missile technology and an overhaul of the nuclear arsenal were also planned, he said.

Missile shield

Mr Putin told viewers that the US presence in Iraq was motivated in part by a desire to "establish control of the country's oil reserves".

But he said the US was now engaged in a "pointless" battle against a popular uprising.

"One can wipe off a political map some tyrannical regime... but it's absolutely pointless to fight with a people," he said.

He assured his audience that Russia, unlike Iraq, was militarily strong enough to defend its territory and its natural resources.

Mr Putin also warned that Russia would boost its deployment of weapons if Washington went ahead with plans to build a missile shield.

Moscow and Washington have already argued over US plans to build missile bases in countries that were once part of the Soviet Union's sphere of influence.

Other topics discussed by the Russian leader included the economy and the threat of terrorism.

He said he was committed to cutting inflation and pointed to a drop in recorded terror attacks as proof his security policy was bearing fruit.

'Prime Minister'

Russians submitted more than one million questions by telephone, text messages or via the internet, the Kremlin said.

Thursday's phone-in comes amid growing speculation about Mr Putin's plans after his second presidential term ends in March.

But Mr Putin, who is considering becoming prime minister when he steps down, said he was against changing the balance of power between president and government.

"It is not expedient to take any powers away from the government or to load more powers" on the government, Interfax news agency quoted him as saying.

Under the Russian constitution, Mr Putin is not allowed to run for a third consecutive term as president, and there has been speculation that he will use the premiership to retain power.

He said he had accepted a proposal by the pro-Kremlin United Russia to head the party's list in December's parliamentary election - a move that would guarantee him a seat in the next parliament.

This is the sixth time Mr Putin has done the phone-in since coming to office.

Putin answers questions from the nation

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