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Putin's Successor Asks Him to Become Prime Minister

Reuters
Tuesday, 11 Dec 2007 | 7:47 AM ET

Dmitry Medvedev, named by President Vladimir Putin as his preferred successor, said on Tuesday he wanted Putin to become prime minister in a future government to guarantee stability and continuity.

Such a move would offer Putin a way to retain influence after he steps down as head of state if, as expected, his long-time ally becomes president in an election next March.

Medvedev, in his first public broadcast since being named by Putin, was quick to declare his loyalty to his mentor.

"Expressing my readiness to stand as a candidate in the presidential election, I ask him (Putin) to agree to head the government of Russia after the election of the new president," Medvedev said in a brief televised address carried on all Russia's state-run channels.

"It is not enough to choose a new president, who can divide up all those responsibilities. It's no less important to preserve the capable team formed by the current president."

Putin's endorsement on Monday of Medvedev, a first deputy prime minister and chairman of powerful state-owned gas company Gazprom, makes him almost certain to become president in March.

Putin to Retain Influence?

The decision to pick a weaker figure who lacked a political base of his own signalled Putin's desire to retain influence after leaving the Kremlin.

Putin hinted earlier this year that he could take the post of prime minister under a new president as a way of retaining influence after leaving the Kremlin.

But in a country where most power is concentrated in the presidency, with the prime minister taking a junior role, some commentators say that dividing power between the two posts could create a risk of conflicts and instability.

Putin is due to step down next year in line with a constitutional ban on heads of state serving more than two consecutive terms.

But he has said he plans to keep an influential role after leaving office and analysts say he is likely to be the real power behind a Medvedev administration.

Policy Continuity

Medvedev made clear that his nomination was linked to the need for continuity of Putin's policies, which had led to greater respect for Russia around the world, and said he would make it a priority to raise incomes for all citizens.

"Russia is different now, much stronger and better-off," he said. "We are being respected and we are being listened to. We are not being treated as schoolchildren."

Some analysts have speculated that Putin may try to rewrite the constitution in order to boost the powers of the prime minister. Although his political allies have enough votes in the lower house of parliament to change the constitution, Putin himself has ruled out this option.

Medvedev, a 42-year-old former law professor, has held the title of first deputy prime minister since 2005.

Earlier on Tuesday, Medvedev visited parliament to meet leaders of the four parties which are backing his presidential bid. They included the powerful United Russia party which controls the chamber.

He indicated that his priority in government would be to spread Russia's oil wealth more widely among the population.

Although incomes have risen sharply during Putin's tenure as the result of an eight-year boom, many Russians still live in poverty and wealth disparities have grown.