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15 Sep, 2007 00:40

Valdai Discussion Club: main focus on domestic issues

As journalists and specialists on Russia gathered for the annual Valdai meeting in Sochi, there was plenty to talk about following a busy week in Russian affairs.

This year’s gathering was focused on religious diversity and was billed as an opportunity to become familiar with Russia's geo-political mindset where east meets west.

The Valdai Club was organized in 2004 by Russian Information Agency RIA Novosti with the aim of offering the international community a greater understanding of Russia’s domestic developments.

Each year, participants pick a global theme and find a region to focus on. In previous years the topics were “Russia as a Political Kaleidoscope” and the club's first discussion was entitled “Russia at the Turn of the Century: Hopes and Reality”. From democracy to economy, religion to a sense of national identity, members of the Valdai Club bring all issues to the table.

The finale of the gathering always culminates with an address by Russia’s principal bigwig, a trip for the delegates to Vladimir Putin's residence near Sochi.

While journalists and political scientists were clearly interested in Russia’s place in the world, it was by no means their sole topic of interest.

“The focus is much more on domestic politics than last year when we talked about  strategic global issues. A lot of journalists and academics were really keen to ask Mr Putin about his future plans,” said Charles Grant, Head of the Centre for European Reform.

The main meeting of the event also crossed paths with the biggest topic of the week, namely

Viktor Zubkov, Russia’s new Prime Minister. So why him, and why now?

“Unfortunately members of government had started thinking about their future after the presidential election and it influenced their work. But I want the federal government and local authorities to work like a Swiss clock before and after the presidential election,” President Putin explained.

Vladimir Putin was also asked about his successor as President.  He replied that whoever it was wouldn't be weak. The Russian leader also reportedly failed to rule out running for office again in 2012.