Tue Jul 4, 2006 10:48 AM ET
By Oliver Bullough
MOSCOW (Reuters) - Organizers of an online conference with President Vladimir Putin have invited Internet users to quiz him on Russia's democracy, its newly assertive role in the world and his personal qualities.
With two days to go to the web cast, Russians are more interested in why he kissed a boy on the stomach, whether he will dispatch humanoid robots to defend Russia and what he thinks of the return of giant mythical octopus Cthulhu.
Putin, who has a yearly televised phone-in with citizens and occasional multi-hour news conferences, seems to relish lengthy discussions of his views on almost any topic.
But he rarely has to tussle with some of the more off-beat questions posted on Russian Web site www.yandex.ru and the BBC's www.bbc.co.uk -- which are jointly running the web cast.
"What did you achieve by kissing the little boy Nikita on the stomach?" was the runaway favorite question. Almost 11,500 people had asked for it to be forwarded to the president.
Just six days ago, Putin stunned Russia by stopping a young boy walking through the Kremlin, asking his name, lifting up his T-shirt and kissing him on the stomach.
It was not clear what had prompted 8,600 Russians to ask Putin if he planned to employ "giant, humanoid war robots" or why 7,300 people were interested in the Cthulhu, a cosmic cephalopod invented by novelist H. P. Lovecraft which is said to be sleeping beneath the Pacific Ocean.
Other, if less popular, themes raised in the 87,000 questions sent to Yandex focused on the more serious issues of Russians' lives -- the size of pensions, military conscription, rising xenophobia and corrupt officials.
For many foreigners writing questions in English to the BBC Web site, Putin's personal life and Russia's separatist war in Chechnya were the main topics of interest, as well as the obstacles to getting a visa to visit Russia.
But a fair number of foreigners found their own unusual questions to ask.
"I think that the character Dobby in the Harry Potter movie 'The Chamber of Secrets' looks a lot like you. Do you know if this is on purpose and do you agree with me that you look alike?" asked A.M. Venema from the Netherlands.
The Web sites will stop accepting questions from 1300 GMT on Thursday, when Putin will get a chance to answer some of them in a live web cast.