MOSCOW: Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday began his annual televised phone-in show with the usual choreographed fanfare, but viewers also got to see a handful of uncensored -- and awkward -- questions flitting across the screen.
As Putin reassured the public that he was aware of the nation's problems, texted questions and comments sporadically appeared during the first 40 minutes, many of which took a decidedly more caustic view of his rule.
"Putin, do you really think people believe this circus with staged questions?" was a telling example.
Another of the unsigned questions referred to opposition leader and anti-corruption campaigner Alexei Navalny, who is currently in jail after calling on his supporters to stage an unauthorised demonstration in Moscow on Monday.
Navalny's video claiming that Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev hides mansions and vineyards through shadowy nonprofit organisations has been viewed more than 23 million times on YouTube.
"Is true that Navalny is making a film about you now?" asked one question, while another asked Putin when he would fire Medvedev and other officials: "Aren't you tired of them?"
Another asked, "Do your words 'We don't hand over our own' apply to embezzlers of public funds and corrupt officials?"
Several messages called for an end to Putin's Kremlin rule, ahead of elections next year when he is widely expected to stand for a fourth term.
One caller asked, "When will you stop breaching the Constitution's limit of two terms?" while another said "Three presidential terms is enough."
One message said simply: "Goodbye, Vladimir Vladimirovich."
The questions then disappeared from the screen.