Putin Quips That Best Way to Handle Corrupt Politicans Is Severing Hands

President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday suggested a striking punishment for Russia's bribe-hungry bureaucrats: off with their hands.

The quip, less a policy plan than a promise to get tough on rampant corruption, came during a Kremlin meeting with leading lawmakers. Stressing the severity of bribe-taking in Russia, Communist Party chief Gennady Zyuganov said that to put up an apartment house, builders must "put something in the paw" of every official with a say in the matter.

"Of course it would be good to chop off that paw, like in the Middle Ages," Putin said in televised remarks. "That would probably be the best solution of all."

When Zyuganov expressed doubt, Putin insisted, "As soon as you started, the paw would stop reaching for the payment," the ITAR-Tass news agency reported.

More seriously, Putin said that Zyuganov was right and that "we must think about this constantly, react to this."

Putin and top members of his government have repeatedly pledged to uproot graft, but organizations that measure corruption say the problem has worsened during his eight-year presidency.

His hand-picked successor, Dmitry Medvedev, who was also at the Kremlin meeting and is to take over as president in May, has acknowledged official corruption on a "huge scale" and called for a redoubled fight.

Putin has said he will become Medvedev's prime minister — a position that could make him more vulnerable to public blame for corruption because the premier is in charge of the economy.