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Putin rules out early Kremlin bid

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The BBC's Rupert Wingfield-Hayes put Putin on the spot over the presidency

Russian PM Vladimir Putin has ruled out an early return to the presidency.

He told the BBC he would wait until 2012 - when presidential polls are due - to decide whether to run at all.

Recent efforts in Russia to extend the presidential term from four to six years have fuelled speculation that Mr Putin may return to the post soon.

He was obliged to step down this year after serving two consecutive terms. Dmitry Medvedev was elected as Russia's new president in March.

"The next presidential election will take place in 2012... For now, everyone must fulfil his duties in his place," Mr Putin said.

He said he had a "very effective tandem" with Mr Medvedev.

"We have worked together for several years," he added.

National broadcast

Mr Putin warned Russians of tough economic times ahead, during a nationwide question-and-answer broadcast.

But he reassured his audience that the current economic troubles would not compare with the collapse of the 1990s.

"It will be a difficult period for the world economy and also for ours," he said.

"We remember that not so long ago in the early 1990s we had problems like keeping the territorial integrity of the country. Industry was in total collapse as well as the social system.

Putin on TV in Moscow shop
Mr Putin's question-and-answer session was broadcast live across Russia

"Today the country is in a much better shape."

Mr Putin also said he hoped for better ties with the US under Barack Obama.

"When there is a change of power in any country - all the more so in a superpower like the United States - some changes occur. We very much hope that these will be positive changes," he said.

Mr Putin also said Moscow would be forced to reduce gas supplies to Ukraine if Kiev did not pay off $2.5bn (1.7bn) debts it owes for gas.

He said Russia was having a "difficult dialogue" with Ukraine, adding: "If our partners do not fulfil the agreements or, as in previous year, permit themselves to illegally tap our resources from a transit pipe, we will be forced to cut down the supply. What else can we do?"

The programme, called A Conversation with Vladimir Putin, was broadcast live from a studio in Moscow in front of a 400-strong audience.

The broadcast continues a tradition that Mr Putin established when he held the post of president.

In last year's session - his sixth - the Kremlin said that a million questions were submitted in advance and Mr Putin answered 70 of them.

The BBC's James Rodgers, in Moscow, says that the fact that Mr Putin - rather than President Dmitry Medvedev - took the questions will lead many to conclude that Mr Putin has relinquished little of his real power since leaving the presidency.

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