Between a string of appearances on a four-day tour across Siberia, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin gave his strongest indication yet that he’ll run in the 2012 presidential election. Though tight-lipped about his intentions, Putin told the newspaper Kommersant that the idea interests him “more than anyone,” although he “doesn’t make a fetish out of it.” Putin became Russia’s most popular politician during his 2000-2008 presidency, but ceded power to protege Dmitry Medvedev due to a constitutional limit on serving a third consecutive term. He is now eligible to return and serve another two consecutive terms. The 57-year-old former KGB officer’s well-documented summer exploits, from co-piloting a firefighting plane to taking part in a scientific whale expedition, have also fuelled rumours of his political intentions.
In the interview, Putin also had choice words for anti-government protesters who have been denied access to a central Moscow square since last year, saying they don’t have the right to gather illegally: “You need to get permission from the local authorities,” he said. “If you have received it, then go and demonstrate. If you have taken to the streets without the right to do so then you are going to get bashed over the head with a truncheon. That is all there is to it.”