From NY TIMES: ... ?ref=world

MOSCOW, Oct. 1 — President Vladimir V. Putin announced today that he would be the leading candidate on the list of Russia’s dominant political party in parliamentary elections in December, and said he might become the country’s prime minister next year.

The announcement, made by Mr. Putin at the eighth congress of the intensely pro-Putin United Russia party, appeared to offer fresh insights into the tantalizing issue currently surrounding the Kremlin and Russian political affairs: the precise intentions of Russia’s president, who is barred by the Constitution from seeking a third consecutive term when his current term expires in 2008.

Mr. Putin’s statements strongly suggest what most analysts had already assumed — that he plans to maintain a hold on much of the power he has accrued during his eight years in the Kremlin, a period during which Russia’s economy and international influence have expanded and many Russians have seen their living conditions improve.


Mr. Putin’s announcement was at once consistent and surprising. The Russian president, who is popular among Russia’s citizens and has a centralized lock on his government, has often said he intends to remain involved in politics beyond his second term, and even that he might seek re-election after another president holds the office.

But he had not previously suggested a new political office for himself immediately after the presidential election next March, as he did today when he said he could become Russia’s next premier.

“Heading the government is quite a realistic proposal,” he said, before adding a qualifier he often uses when publicly discussing his plans for 2008: “But it is too early to think about that.”

The prime minister’s position in Russia is often viewed as a step toward the presidency; Mr. Putin himself was briefly the premier under President Boris N. Yeltsin before swiftly rising to the seat of power.

Last month Mr. Putin abruptly appointed Viktor A. Zubkov, a confidant of little prior prominence, to the premier’s post. He then hinted that Mr. Zubkov could succeed him as the president. The president’s remarks then and today, taken together, suggested that when his term expires he might step one rung down the government’s ladder — and then back up.

Mr. Putin’s latest speech also accompanied his acceptance of a new type of prominence: as the symbolic head of Russia’s dominant political party, United Russia. The party unfailingly supports the Kremlin and Mr. Putin, although the president has never joined it and did not join it today.

By accepting the position at the head of the party’s candidate list, Mr. Putin instantaneously lent the party his vast domestic political stature, and probably the resources of the Russian government, to its efforts to extend its dominance in Russia’s 450-seat Duma, the lower house of Parliament.

The party had appeared already to bank on its close relationship with Mr. Putin. Its slogan for the parliamentary campaign, even before Mr. Putin agreed to be on the party list, was “Putin’s Plan: Russia’s Victory.”

The party currently holds a strong majority of the Duma’s seats. Its leadership said today that Mr. Putin’s new public support guaranteed it an unconditional victory in the next round of elections, scheduled for Dec. 2.


Whether Mr. Putin can serve in Parliament and as president simultaneously is an open question. Russia’s constitution and electoral law allow parties to nominate candidates for the legislature who are not party members, but Russia’s constitution also requires a separation of powers as one of its fundamental principles.

However, Maya Grishina, a member of the federal Central Election Commission, told the official RIA-Novosti news agency that “the head of the state is not banned to nominate his candidacy at any election, including the parliamentary election. Along with this he can still carry out his duties. The law doesn’t contain any restrictions on this.”

Gleb O. Pavlovsky, a political scientist who leads a policy organization closely connected with the Kremlin, said that Mr. Putin would give his name to the party as an electoral locomotive, but would not actually seek a seat in the Parliament after the results were tallied in December.

Instead, Mr. Pavlovsky said, Mr. Putin had identified the party and the parliamentary campaign as another possible base of power after he leaves office.

“The party may become his main tool after the end of his presidency,” he said by telephone. “The new president won’t be able to appoint a prime minister without the support of the party leader.”