Russian President Vladimir Putin confirmed yesterday his intention to wield significant power as premier when he leaves the Kremlin after next month's presidential election.
Putin also attacked Western support for independence in Kosovo and sparked NATO's anger by threatening to target missiles at former Soviet bloc countries that host bases from the military alliance or a US missile defense shield.
Speaking to journalists just two weeks before a presidential election almost certain to be won by his chosen successor Dmitry Medvedev, Putin confirmed he was "ready to work as prime minister."
His statements were his most clear yet on how he intends to retain significant power on stepping down this May at the end of his second four-year term.
He signalled he wants to give the premiership a leading role, in contrast to the largely technical function currently performed by Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov.
"The president is the guarantor of the Constitution. He sets the main directions for internal and external policies. But the highest executive power in the country is the Russian government, headed by the prime minister," Putin said.
He said he would be premier "as long as Medvedev is president and if I see that I am meeting goals that I myself have fixed."
The prime minister plan was first aired in November. It is seen by many Moscow analysts as a formula allowing Putin to remain the country's top leader under a weak Medvedev presidency.
But Putin, accused by critics of establishing an authoritarian regime during his eight years in power, denied hunger for power.
"All these eight years I worked like a slave, from morning to night," Putin told the more than four-hour long press conference with hundreds of journalists.
However, "I was never tempted" to change the Constitution and take a third Kremlin term, Putin said. "They say the biggest addiction is to power, but I have never felt this."
Separately, Putin warned Russia would "be forced to aim missiles" at countries perceived as a threat, specifically Ukraine, which is applying to join NATO, and the Czech Republic and Poland, which are planning to host a US anti-missile defense system.
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