Medvedev keeps suspense on presidential ambitions

AFP , Wednesday 18 May 2011

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev decline to comment on whether he would run for presidency in 2011, or leave his post to his Prime Minister Vladimir Putin

Dmitry Medvedev
Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev (Photo: Reuters)

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev Wednesday refused to say if he would seek re-election in 2012, glossing over recent differences with Vladimir Putin, his powerful prime minister and mentor.

Speaking to over 800 journalists at the biggest press conference of his presidency, Medvedev said an announcement on the decision to run should be expected soon, exactly the same statement he made last month.

Choosing his words carefully, Medvedev tiptoed around the 2012 presidential elections, refusing to offer any new firm indications of his ambitions.

Speculation has swirled lately over whether Medvedev or his predecessor Putin intends to stand. There had been expectations the president would use the first big news conference of his presidency to offer a hint.

"This kind of decision has to be made when all the conditions are right, when it has the final political effect," Medvedev said at a technology centre outside Moscow that is the centrepiece of his modernisation drive.

Medvedev said he would put an end to the feverish speculation soon but did not say what timeframe he had in mind.

"This does not mean that this can last forever ... As I said in the interview to your Chinese colleagues, this decision will come fairly soon," he said, referring to an interview with Chinese television last month.

Medvedev said that if he chose to run for a second term he would like to rely on those forces that have backed him in the past, in a sign he may seek support from a party other than the ruling United Russia.

"If I do this (run for president) then I will be hoping to lean on those who have already backed me before, among other things," he said cryptically.

"The president may head one of the political forces. It would not be bad," he added.

Several political parties led by Putin's United Russia backed Medvedev's candidacy in 2008 when Putin had to step down after serving two consecutive terms in the Kremlin.

A small pro-business party, Right Cause, has recently urged Medvedev to run for a second term.

In a surprise announcement ahead of Medvedev's news conference, tycoon Mikhail Prokhorov, Russia's second richest man, said he was ready to lead and revamp Right Cause to challenge United Russia's grip on power.

Some analysts have detected lately an increasing swagger in Medvedev, once dismissed as a mere puppet of the man who has dominated Russia for the last decade since the resignation of Boris Yeltsin.

Yulia Latynina, a columnist for opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta, said Medvedev's media appearance was another false dawn in his efforts to assert himself as an independent figure.

"His messages are hugely mixed," she told AFP. "On the one hand, he wants very much to remain president. On the other hand, he does not have a mandate" to decide independently whether he will run.

Medvedev said he and Putin were "truly like-minded people," a change of tone after contradicting Putin's statements on Libya. But the president conceded he wanted modernisation of Russia to go at a faster pace than the premier.

While Putin believes "that modernisation is a calm and gradual process... I think that we have every chance that this modernisation could be quicker," said Medvedev.

Intriguingly, Medvedev bluntly said it was wrong for rulers to stay in power too long, although he made these comments in reference to Russia's powerful regional governors whom he has reshuffled drastically in the last years.

"No-one stays in power forever. And if anyone has that kind of illusion then they will end badly," said the president.

Citing sources, opposition magazine New Times said this week Putin's All-Russia People's Front coalition he is now cobbling together from social movements and parties was meant to show he remained the top decision-maker.

"The White House (the government) came to an understanding that Medvedev played an independent man for too long, the time has come to put him in his place," the weekly said.

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