World and Nation

Putin Questioned as Russian Economy Falters

Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin spent much of his annual question-and-answer televised exchange on Thursday seeking to reassure Russians that the effects of the global economic crisis on the country would be minimal. He also denied increased speculation that he might seek an early return to the presidency.

In a three-hour broadcast, Putin faced a barrage of questions from people across the country concerned about the decline in the value of the ruble, increased fuel costs, unpaid pensions and rising unemployment, among other issues.

When Putin started the annual broadcast as president seven years ago, the mood was different. Russia was at the start of a decade-long economic boom. The standard of living reached historic heights and Putin enjoyed huge popularity. With the onset of more difficult times, however, it is unclear how long either can be maintained.

At the beginning of the broadcast, Putin deflected responsibility for his country’s economic woes, placing blame, as he has done before, squarely on what he called American recklessness.

“The crisis began in the United States, whose financial and economic policies led to the crisis that infected the economies of practically all major countries of the world,” he said.

In a sign, however, that Russia might be ready to put past antipathy aside to cooperate with the incoming Obama administration, he pulled back from the harsh criticism of the United States that has peppered his similar performances.

“We are really counting on this being a positive change,” he said, adding that “positive signals” had been coming from President-elect Barack Obama and his team. “If these are not simply words, if they are transformed into practical policies, then, of course, our reaction will be adequate, and our American partners will immediately notice this.”