Putin Q&A Session Set To Be Aired Next Week

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin will take to the airwaves next week to answer questions from citizens around the country, continuing a tradition he established as president.

The live television program, in which Putin will answer questions asked by e-mail and via video hookup, is scheduled for Dec. 4, a spokeswoman for state-run Rossia television said Tuesday on condition of anonymity as she was not authorized to disclose the information.

Putin's previous call-in shows as president were broadcast on both Rossia and state-run Channel One television, but Channel One will not air the program this year, a government source said on condition of anonymity.

"The format will be a little different, and therefore it is only one channel," the source said.

A senior United Russia official said last week that Putin would act more in the role of the United Russia leader rather than the prime minister.

The government source said Tuesday, however, that Putin would speak "both as prime minister and as party chairman."

Putin's decision to go ahead with the show despite the fact that he is no longer president has fueled speculation that he is mulling a return to the Kremlin.

President Dmitry Medvedev has not publicly answered citizens' questions since taking office in May, instead addressing the nation via video statements posted on the Kremlin web site.

When Putin goes on air on Dec. 4, Medvedev may be in India.

"President Medvedev is making an official visit early next week," Indian Embassy spokesman Ramesh Chandra said Tuesday. Chandra could not confirm, however, whether the visit would wind up before Dec. 4.

While the broadcast is a clear sign of Putin's dominant position in the country, it should not be taken as evidence of his possible return to the presidency, said Masha Lipman, a political analyst with the Moscow Carnegie Center. "I would not jump to the conclusion that it is part of an election campaign," she said.

The show will likely be "a carefully orchestrated affair," Lipman said.

Media reports have suggested that Putin's previous call-in shows were meticulously scripted.

In last year's broadcast, an elderly woman phoned in and said "thank God" for Putin's existence. The Russian edition of Newsweek reported in August that the call had been "rehearsed for hours."

Spokespeople for the government and Rossia television declined to comment on media reports that Putin would take questions from the breakaway Georgian region of South Ossetia.