July 3, 2006TODAYonline
MOSCOW (AFP) - Forget politics, oligarchs and Chechnya. What Russians really want to ask their leader is when he lost his virginity, when he will legalise marijuana and when a giant fictional octopus sleeping at the bottom of the ocean will awaken.
These are at least some of the most popular questions being put by Russian web surfers to President Vladimir Putin on the Yandex website in preparation for a July 6 interactive Internet question-and-answer session.
Putin will respond via Internet in his first-ever webcast to some of the questions posted through the BBC Online and Yandex sites, where queries can also be voted on, as part of a Kremlin media charm offensive ahead of the G8 Summit in Saint Petersburg on July 15-17.
Ranked most popular on Yandex Monday with 8,080 votes was a question on what possessed Putin to kiss a young boy on the stomach during a walkabout in a Kremlin courtyard last Wednesday
Putin stopped to talk to the boy, who was standing by with tourists. In images shown on Russian state television, Putin crouched down, lifted the boy's shirt and kissed him on the stomach.
The curious incident has unleashed gossip and jokes on Russian websites over the past week.
Among other popular questions for Putin were queries on whether the president had ever tried marijuana and whether he would legalize purchase of cannabis.
One question for the Russian president from a source identified as a 17-year-old female named Nastya asked: "At what age did you start meeting girls and when did you have sex for the first time?".
Russian surfers also asked when conscription service into the Russian army will end, why there is so little affordable housing and what Putin was planning to do about an increase in racist violence in the country.
Queries on increasing controls on a wave of immigration from former Soviet republics and making the Crimean peninsula, a mostly Russian-speaking province of Ukraine, a part of the Russian Federation were also among the top-ranked.
More than 3,000 surfers voted on a question from Viktor, 29, on what Putin thought about the re-awakening of the Cthulhu, a fictional octopus-like creature invented by 20th century horror writer H.P. Lovecraft.
Popular questions posted on the BBC Online website, by contrast, were more concentrated on current events.
They centred on the problem of racism in Russia, corruption, the influence of powerful tycoons in the country's economy, the future of the war-torn province of Chechnya and Russia's role on the international stage.