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Medvedev speech: nod or challenge to Putin's upper hand?

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev dismissed a Putin-Medvedev face-off in 2012. He may be trying to establish his place as a liberal voice in a Putin-led system.

By Correspondent / June 20, 2011

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev speaks during an awarding ceremony at the Gorki Presidential residence, outside Moscow on Monday, June 20.

Alexander Nemenov/AP

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Moscow

Political competition is always a good thing, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said Monday, but the much-discussed idea of an open presidential face off between himself and his powerful predecessor, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, would be bad for the country.

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Mr. Medvedev's comments, made in an extensive interview with Britain's Financial Times newspaper just days after challenging the state-led system built by Mr. Putin at an international economics forum, has many observers scratching their heads about his intentions.

"I think that any leader who occupies such a post as president, simply must want to run," Medvedev said. But, he added, "the people must provide an answer to this one. They define whether they want to see this person or not and, as an acting politician, I will be guided by that in taking my decision. I think that we will have not very long to wait and I think that the decision will be correct, both for the rest of the federation and myself."

Analysts say it's difficult to see how "the people" could give such a signal in Russia's top-down and heavily controlled political system.

"Between the lines, it's clear Medvedev is saying that Putin will decide," says Alexei Mukhin, director of the Center for Political Information, an independent Moscow think tank. "He keeps being asked this question, about whether he will run, and tries to find ways of talking about it without providing an answer. The fact that he can't say 'yes' or 'no' at this point means the decision almost certainly depends on somebody else."

Putin, who leads the ruling United Russia party, increasingly looks to be running for a six-year presidential term in polls slated for next March, though he's made no explicit announcement.

But he might already be able to claim that the people have given him a sign. Last month, Putin announced the creation of a popular front whose main purpose appears to be backing Putin's renewed bid for national leadership. According to the front's website, thousands of individuals and 500 public organizations have joined up by last week.

Medvedev has consistently sounded far more liberal than Putin on economic and political issues. Many people see Medvedev's speech last Friday to the St. Petersburg economic forum as a liberal election manifesto to challenge the conservative "stability first" approach championed by Putin.

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