Putin agrees to become premier next year

He is barred from running for 3rd term as president

December 18, 2007|By New York Times News Service

MOSCOW -- President Vladimir V. Putin formally declared yesterday that he intends to become prime minister next year, ensuring his dominance of the Russian government even after his term ends.

Putin said at a meeting of his party, United Russia, that he had accepted an offer from his close aide, Dmitri A. Medvedev, to move to the prime minister's office if Medvedev wins the presidency in March, which is likely.

"If our people will trust Mr. Medvedev and elect him the new president of the Russian federation, I will be prepared to continue our joint work, in this case in the position of premier of the government," Putin said.

The announcement ends a choreographed power transition that began in October, when Putin first suggested that he might become prime minister to retain influence after his term ran out. It culminated last week when he endorsed Medvedev for the presidency and Medvedev said he wanted Putin to be prime minister.

In yesterday's speech, Putin called Medvedev - who is a first deputy prime minister and chairman of Gazprom, the Russian gas monopoly - "an exceptionally honest, decent man. We should not be ashamed or frightened to deliver the main levers of control over the country, the fate of Russia, into the hands of a man like him."

Putin is barred by constitutional term limits from running for a third consecutive presidential term, and he has vowed not to change that restriction.

But the move yesterday raised the prospect that Medvedev might step down at some point during his term and propel Putin, as prime minister, back into the presidency. A special presidential election could then be held, and Putin would be able to run.

The president is far more powerful in Russia than the prime minister. Putin said yesterday that he would not seek to change the legal authority of either office.

Still, given that Medvedev has never held elected office and has spent almost his entire career as Putin's deputy, it seems likely that Putin will continue to be the de facto head of Russia if Medvedev is elected.

Such an arrangement would be rare if not unprecedented in the history of Russia, where power has traditionally flowed from the office, not the personality.

Putin is a more significant political figure, but Medvedev would control the armed forces, the security services and other critical parts of the government.

Neither Putin nor Medvedev has explained how their relationship would work in the Kremlin. Speaking at the party meeting yesterday, Medvedev repeated his comments of last week when he offered the prime minister job to Putin, saying that because Russia had accomplished much during Putin's tenure, he needed to remain in the Kremlin.

"I have no doubt that in future, as before, Vladimir Putin will use his enormous political resources, his influence in our society and the world, for the benefit of Russia," Medvedev said. "Together, as a single team, we shall be able to solve the most difficult and large-scale tasks."

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