Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said Thursday he will consider running again to reclaim the presidency — one of the strongest signals yet that he may contend Russia's top office in 2012.
Putin made the statement during an electric four-hour solo performance on live television. The question-and-answer show on TV and radio highlighted his dominance of Russia's political scene.
"I will think about it, there is still enough time," Putin said when asked whether he will run in the next election.
"Don't hold your breath," Putin told another person who asked whether he was planning to leave politics.
Putin added he wants to focus now on his job as premier and make sometimes unpopular decisions without having to take electoral considerations into account.
Putin had to shift into the premier's seat in 2008 following two consecutive terms in office, but since then the presidential term has been extended to six years and Putin is eligible to run again in 2012.
He also called for a balanced assessment of Soviet leader Josef Stalin, praising him for industrializing the Soviet Union and winning World War II, but condemned his reporession, Reuters reported.
Putin's marathon television show, similar to previous call-ins he did when he was president, demonstrated that he continued to call the shots, overshadowing his designated successor, President Dmitry Medvedev. Putin has said earlier that instead of competing against each other in 2012, he and Medvedev will "sit down and decide" who will run as the elections get closer.
The bookish Medvedev was in Italy on Thursday to meet with the Italian leaders and the pope. Medvedev has never made a similar appearance on television since his March 2008 election.
Asked about his "tandem" with Medvedev, Putin said their common educational background and views allowed them to "efficiently work together."
Putin, who has cast himself as a paternal figure protecting people from the threat of terrorism and economic upheavals, vowed Thursday that the Russian government will step up the fight against terrorism.
He said the threat of terrorism remains "very high" following a deadly train bombing that killed 26 people last week and promised that authorities would act "very harshly" to root out militants.
"We have enough resolve and firmness for that," he said, opening a session with 2 million people able to ask questions by telephone and the Internet.
The bombing last Friday of the Moscow-to-St.Petersburg express train fueled fears that Russia could face another wave of terror attacks. It was the first deadly terrorist strike outside the North Caucasus since the bombings of two airliners and a Moscow subway station attack in 2004.
"We have done a lot to break the spine of terrorism, but the threat is still here," Putin said. "The entire society, all of us must be aware of that threat."
He urged a stronger pre-emptive action by law-enforcement agencies and called on the Russian people to show more vigilance.
Putin also focused heavily on economy during Thursday's show, which featured televised links with workers from several industrial towns.
Putin said Russia has "overcome the peak of the crisis" and claimed credit for softening its impact. He added that the government will have to spend more money to support the economy for the time being.
"The exit (strategy) will take time and effort as well as substantial funds," Putin said.
Russia is weathering its worst economic downturn in a decade as commodities prices — the backbone of its economy — collapsed late last year. But it emerged from the recession in the third quarter rising by a seasonally adjusted 0.6 percent.
The Russian prime minister once again took time to burnish his common-man appeal.
He chastised the Russian rich for arrogantly showing off their wealth, saying that their fancy imported cars look as grotesque as golden teeth.
Putin also promised a tough action to clean up the nation's police forces, which have faced mounting criticism for rampant corruption and other abuses.
He promised a more compensation to a widow of a worker who was among 75 people who died in a disastrous accident at Russia's largest hydroelectric plant, and wage hikes and more social benefits to many others.
"If the situation demands it, I will come to you or to any other place in the Russian Federation, it's my duty," he said.
Delving into foreign policy issues, he sharply admonishing the United States for keeping "anachronistic" Cold War-era trade restrictions imposed to penalize the Soviet Union for its refusal to allow free emigration of the Jews.
"The Soviet Union is gone, but they (restrictions) have remained," he said.
Putin also accused the United States of hampering Russia's accession into the World Trade Organization.
"Accession into the WTO remains our strategic goal, but some nations, including the Unites States, are impeding Russia's WTO bid," he said.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.