President Vladimir Putin threw his support behind first Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev as his successor on Monday, saying that electing him president would keep Russia on the same course of the past eight years.
There have been months of intense speculation on whom Putin would support to run in the March 2 presidential elections — along with the wider question of what Putin himself will do once he steps down.
Putin`s popularity and steely control is so strong that most observers expect that the candidate he supports would be a shoo-in.
He made the statement in a meeting with representatives of the United Russia party — which is his power base and dominates parliament — and of three other parties. The parties told Putin they all supported Medvedev.
"I completely and fully support this proposal," Putin said, according to video on state television.
Putin had long been seen as trying to choose between Medvedev, a 42-year-old business-oriented lawyer and board chairman of state natural gas giant Gazprom, and Sergei Ivanov, another first deputy premier who built up a stern and hawkish reputation while defense minister.
"Medvedev is not an extremist. He is not known for any kind of harsh views on politics, and apparently Medvedev better suits Putin`s view of how to achieve continuity," said Lilia Shevtsova, an analyst at the Carnegie Moscow Center.
Although Putin is banned by the constitution from seeking a third consecutive term in office, he has indicated a strong desire to remain a significant power figure. He has raised the prospect of becoming prime minister, and his supporters have called for him to become a "national leader" with unspecified authority.
Medvedev holds powerful positions but projects a mild-mannered public image and has been widely seen as an official devoted to Putin.
Putin reinforced that perception Monday, saying that electing Medvedev would pave the way for a government "that will carry out the course that has brought results for all of the past eight years."
The Russian stock market surged on the news, led not only by Gazprom shares but also apparently boosted by the end of long uncertainty over whom Putin would designate as successor.
Some have speculated that Putin could eventually try to return to the presidency — a goal that could be easier if Medvedev succeeds him, said Vladimir Ryzhkov, a prominent liberal politician.
"If Putin wants to return in two, three years ... Medvedev will be the person who will without a doubt give up the path for him," he said on Ekho Moskvy radio.
Both Medvedev and Putin worked under St. Petersburg`s reformist Mayor Anatoly Sobchak in the early 1990s. After Putin became prime minister in 1999, he brought Medvedev to Moscow to become deputy chief of staff of the Cabinet. He then moved up to become deputy chief of staff for the president, was appointed to head Gazprom`s board in 2002 and became full presidential chief of staff in 2003.
In 2005, Putin named him a first deputy prime minister, and almost immediately Medvedev began to receive extensive television coverage — even more than that accorded to the prime minister.
The disproportionately lavish coverage raised speculation that Putin even then saw Medvedev as his preferred successor. But Ivanov later was appointed to another first deputy premiership and began to receive equally wide TV coverage, suggesting that Putin was conducting an unstated competition or that there was jockeying for influence among Kremlin factions.
ABOUT DMITRY MEDVEDEV
Age: 42; born Sept. 14, 1965, in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg), to university professors.
Education: Graduated from Leningrad State University (now St. Petersburg State University) in 1987; received a law degree from the same university in 1990.
Experience: Taught law at St. Petersburg State University, 1990-1999; appointed deputy chief of staff for the Russian Cabinet, November 1999; appointed acting President Vladimir Putin`s deputy chief of staff, Dec. 31, 1999; headed Putin`s 2000 presidential election campaign; appointed Putin`s first deputy chief of staff, June 2000; promoted to chief of staff, October 2003; appointed first deputy prime minister, November 2005, charged with leading efforts to improve key sectors, including housing and health care; board chairman of state natural gas company Gazprom, 2002-present.
Family: Married, one son.
Basing on Associated Press materials