MOSCOW – The soft-spoken bureaucrat just presented to the world as Russian President Vladimir V. Putin’s handpicked successor appeared on state television Tuesday with a deferential plea: The country must remain under Putin’s leadership.
Dmitry Medvedev, the Kremlin-backed candidate expected to ascend to the presidency in March elections, called on Putin to head up the next government as prime minister. Only Putin, he said, will be able to ensure national stability.
“It is not enough to elect a new president who shares (Putin’s) ideology,” Medvedev said. “I consider it principally important to preserve Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin in a most important job of the executive power.”
With months to go before the election, Medvedev’s statement appeared to cede a degree of future authority to Putin.
Although he is constitutionally banned from seeking a third term as president, Putin is riding a wave of swelling oil prices and popular appeal amid widespread speculation that he would seek to stay in power. The question has been: how could Putin do so without tampering with the constitution or taking autocratic steps.
Putin himself did not respond Tuesday to Medvedev’s suggestion. But some analysts believe that the speech finally tipped the Kremlin’s hand.
“This is the scenario of the third term of Putin,” said Andrei Piontkovsky, a prominent Russian analyst who is now a visiting scholar at the Hudson Institute.
By suggesting that Russia cannot move forward without Putin’s leadership, Medvedev has raised questions about how power would be balanced between the two men. In the history of Russian politics, there is scant precedent for two strong leaders sharing responsibility, analysts pointed out.
Many analysts predict that Medvedev, who rode Putin’s political rise, would happily allow Putin to call the shots.
But others were skeptical. Once Medvedev is in the Kremlin, they said, he will come into his own, building a new team and eliminating enemies.
“There will be two bears in one den, and that usually leads to general disorder, to sharp conflict or to the defeat of one of them,” said Victor Kremeinuk, deputy director of Moscow’s USA and Canada Institute.