Next Piece in Putin's Puzzle Revealed as He Names Favored Successor

By Sergei Blagov | July 7, 2008 | 8:18 PM EDT

Moscow ( - Russia's next president looks set to be a close and longtime ally of Vladimir Putin, after the majority United Russia party and three minor parties on Monday named Dmitry Medvedev as their candidate in the election next March.

Putin promptly backed the choice of Medvedev, who is currently first deputy prime minister. The pro-Kremlin United Russia, which easily won recent parliamentary elections with Putin topping its list, will formally approve the candidate at a party congress on Dec. 17.

With the support of Putin and United Russia, Medvedev is regarded a shoo-in for the presidency. United Russia and its allies now control more than two-thirds of the seats in the State Duma, parliament's lower house.

Medvedev, 42, has been a close ally of Putin's for 17 years, having earlier served as head of the presidential administration and head of Putin's election campaigns.

As chairman of the board of Russia's natural gas monopoly, Gazprom, he is widely seen as a business-friendly candidate.

Alexander Shokhin, head of the country's leading business lobby, the Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, said Medvedev was one of those people around Putin who advocates favorable conditions for business.

His candidacy would end allegations of a "velvet reprivatization" campaign in Russia, Shokhin said.

In his capacity as first deputy prime minister, Medvedev in recent months was in charge of social issues and "national priority" programs including housing and healthcare. He has also been a vocal advocate of mortgage lending.

Alexander Lebedev, a business tycoon turned Duma deputy, described Medvedev as a "very good choice," adding that he has an impressive track record in social and economic matters.

Russian pundits don't expect significant political changes in Russia after the election next March. Putin's team will retain power, said the Kremlin-connected political analyst, Gleb Pavlovsky.

Even Medvedev's opponents conceded that his nomination was consistent with the Kremlin's policies.

Communist Party head Guennady Zyuganov, who also plans to run for president, said Medvedev's candidacy was to be expected, given the fact he has been Putin's right-hand man.

Alexey Malashenko, an analyst at the Carnegie Endowment in Moscow, predicted that the new president would be unable to take any independent measures. He would continue Putin's policies, while Putin retains the real power, Malashenko said.

But television presenter Sergei Dorenko, a former Putin loyalist who is now a Communist supporter, believes there will be a style change, at least. Medvedev will not call his opponents "jackals," he said, in reference to Putin's recent attacks against his political opponents and their alleged Western backers.

Presidential candidates have until Dec. 23 to declare their candidacy. The poll is scheduled to take place on March 2, with the new president to be inaugurated in May.

The Russian constitution requires Putin to step down when his second consecutive term ends in May.

Putin, 55, has repeatedly said he will neither violate nor amend the constitution to allow him a third consecutive term, but many analysts expect he will find other ways to dominate Russian political life. Some expect that he may stand again in 2012, if not before, should circumstances allow.

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