KRASNOYARSK, Russia - President Vladimir Putin said yesterday that a big win for the dominant pro-Kremlin party in parliamentary elections next month would give him the "moral right" to maintain influence in Russia after he steps down next year.
Putin's remarks on a campaign-style visit to Siberia were the clearest sign yet that he intends to retain power and keep Russia on the authoritarian, globally assertive course that he has set during eight years as president.
Putin has long indicated that he hopes to remain influential after term limits force him from office in May, and has not ruled out a return to the Kremlin in 2012.
He said last month that he will lead United Russia's ticket in the Dec. 2 elections to the State Duma, the lower house of parliament.
The people who lead party tickets do not always take seats in parliament, and the Kremlin has said Putin has no intention of doing so. Instead, the expected overwhelming victory for the party would give Putin a popular mandate and a loyal parliament to limit the clout of his successor - and possibly lay the groundwork for a return to the presidency in 2012 or sooner.
On his first major trip inside Russia since the parliamentary campaign began, Putin told workers at a road construction site in Krasnoyarsk that "If the people vote for United Russia, it means that a clear majority . . . put their trust in me, and in turn that means I will have the moral right to hold those in the Duma and the Cabinet responsible for the implementation of the tasks that have been set as of today."
"In what form I will do this, I cannot yet give a direct answer. But various possibilities exist," he said.