Russian President Vladimir Putin made it clear Thursday that his role as national leader would not diminish despite a title change when he becomes prime minister alongside his chosen successor as president, Dmitry Medvedev.
Russians are expected to elect Medvedev, Putin's protege and currently a first deputy prime minister, when they go to the polls March 2. After eight years as Russia's president, Putin has agreed to become Medvedev's prime minister, a job the Russian constitution states is subordinate to the president.
However, at his annual news conference given in the Kremlin's Round Hall, Putin stressed that the new post he is expected to assume has ample authority for him to retain much of his power.
"The president is the guarantor of the constitution," Putin said. "He sets the main direction for internal and external policy. But the highest executive power in the country is the Russian government, headed by the prime minister. So there is enough power for Dmitry and me to share."
The press conference, a four-hour, 40-minute marathon attended by more than 1,300 reporters, was Putin's last as president.
"I don't see any serious failures," he said, speaking in a cavernous auditorium on the Kremlin grounds. "All the goals that were set were reached, and the tasks fulfilled."
He also returned to the theme that has echoed throughout his second term: that Moscow is once again a world power determined to be respected, if not loved, by the United States and Europe.
"We will not slide into confrontation, but we believe we have the right to fight for our interests as our partners do," he said, when asked if Russia was acting aggressively toward the West.
When it came to the United States, Putin sympathetically said that the job of the U.S. president was probably tougher than his and that few understood how heavy a burden President Bush carries.
But if he was sometimes kind, he was frequently critical. Putin repeatedly painted the United States and NATO as the aggressors in a series of disputes, saying Russia was being forced to react.
He refused to back away from a threat to retarget some nuclear missiles at Poland and the Czech Republic if those countries host a planned U.S. anti-ballistic missile system. "We are warning people ahead of time: If you take this step, then we will make that step," Putin said.
Despite these differences, Putin said he was ready to work with the next American president, citing common interests in the fights against international terror, nuclear nonproliferation, poverty and infectious disease.
Asked why Russia failed to reach an agreement with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe about monitors for the presidential ballot, he accused OSCE groups of trying to "teach" Russia to behave.
"Let them teach their wives to make cabbage soup," he said.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.