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Putin Reiterates He'll Pick Successor

President Vladimir Putin reiterated on Saturday that he would name a preferred successor before his presidency ended in 2008 and said Russia would not return to the Cold War, despite a chill in relations with the United States.

Putin has long said he would not change the Constitution to allow himself a third consecutive term but that he felt it was his duty to name a successor. He made his latest remarks at his summer residence in Sochi after a reporter asked him if he had settled on a candidate.

Putin did not answer the question directly, saying instead that he would pick someone who would ensure continued stability.

"I have certain ideas about how to construct the situation in the country ... so as not to destabilize it, not to scare people and business," he said, according to a transcript of his comments posted on the Kremlin web site. "Everyone values the situation that we have today -- a calm, steady and stable situation."

Putin said that he would only recommend a successor and that the final choice would rest with the people. "But I feel that I have the right to express my point of view about this or that candidate," he added. "I am also a Russian citizen and have the right to an opinion. And I will do that."

In posing the successor question, the reporter mentioned that U.S. President George W. Bush had already recommended his younger brother, Florida Governor Jeb Bush, as a promising candidate.

Putin's first reaction was a joke. "Nepotism -- what else can you expect from them?" he said.

Speculation has been building in recent months that Putin's leading contenders are First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov.

Putin -- who spoke Saturday after congratulating visiting staff from the All-Russian State Television and Radio Company on the state-controlled network's 15th anniversary -- also elaborated on foreign policy issues that he first raised in his state-of-the-nation address last week. Russia will not seek to be more aggressive in the international arena or engage in Cold War-like standoffs, he said.

Relations with the United States grew strained earlier this month when U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney accused Putin of curbing civil liberties and using Russia's energy resources as "tools of intimidation and blackmail."

"We will build ties with our Western partners patiently and calmly. I said in the address that we would not return to the era of the Cold War, either in politics or in defense strategy," Putin said, Interfax reported.

He added: "If we don't poke our nose in someone else's business and don't declare the whole world to be our zone of influence, then the resources that we have available are quite sufficient to absolutely, reliably guarantee our security."

Toby Gati, who was U.S. President Bill Clinton's special assistant for Russia, said Sunday by telephone from Washington that Bush and Putin had used surrogates to express genuine dissatisfaction with their countries' bilateral relationship while preserving their personal relationship. The onus is on the two leaders, Gati added, to lower the temperature and make the most of the upcoming G8 summit.

(The Moscow Times 15.v.06)

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