MOSCOW – Wagging his pen and gazing directly into the camera, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin sent his strongest signal yet Thursday that he plans to return to Russia’s presidency, telling millions of TV viewers that he will consider running in 2012.
The former KGB spy, who retains huge power despite formally stepping down after his eight-year presidency in 2008, turned in an electric performance during his annual marathon call-in show – cementing his high rating among the electorate and his reputation as Russia’s No. 1 leader.
Asked if he was leaving the political stage, Putin grinned and said: “Don’t hold your breath.”
The St. Petersburg native declared he would “think about it, there is still enough time,” when questioned on his intent to run again for president.
Although his words were short of an outright declaration, the fact that he would admit to considering a run underlined his steely ambition. There is almost no doubt Putin would win – because of his genuine popularity and the overwhelming political dominance of his United Russia party.
“While he coyly said it’s too early for a decision, it certainly looked like he has already decided” to return to the presidency in 2012, said Nikolai Petrov, an analyst with the Carnegie Moscow Center.
President Dmitry Medvedev, on a visit to Italy, told reporters after the call-in show that “if Putin doesn’t rule out running, neither do I rule myself out” for 2012. He also said that he and Putin will act as “responsible politicians” and reach agreement on the 2012 election to avoid “elbowing one another” – echoing previous comments by Putin.