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Vladimir Putin said if he is appointed prime minister after
Vladimir Putin said if he is appointed prime minister after he steps down as president in March 2008 he will focus on the economy and welfare.

Putin, who is prohibited by the Constitution from running for a third consecutive presidential term, said earlier this week he would agree to become premier if First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, nominated as a presidential candidate by the ruling party, won the polls. Medvedev, who enjoys the president's backing, is widely seen as a front-runner.

Analysts have suggested Putin, who has consistently enjoyed high popularity ratings, will remain a de-facto leader in Russia and would redistribute powers in favor of the prime minister.

Putin dismissed the speculation in an interview with Time Magazine, which named him its Person of the Year 2007: "I will only fulfill the duties the Constitution stipulates for the head of government, tackle routine economic and welfare problems like road construction, housing, and education.

"But key political, administrative and personnel issues, and those in the spheres of defense and international affairs will, undoubtedly, remain the president's responsibility," Putin told the magazine.

Putin, who has presided over the country's brisk economic growth mainly driven by high oil prices, said he was a staunch advocate of free market. "One does not have to be an expert to see huge advantages of a market economy over a planned economy," he said.

But he also snapped at criticism of the Kremlin's growing grip on the economy and the energy sector, including the emergence of giant state corporations distributing investment and consolidating assets.

Putin said the state must act as a regulator, especially in countries like Russia, and cited the nation's economic successes as evidence supporting his position.

He said the Russian economy had grown by an average 7% a year in the past years, the country had paid off much of its multi-billion debts, and the real incomes of Russians had increased by 12%.


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