Russia skeptics proven right as Putin set to take top spot again
Saturday's announcement that Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin will be the ruling party's nominee for president in elections slated for March seemed to leave little doubt he was always in charge.
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Putin had earlier suggested that Medvedev head the candidate list of the United Russia party, whose popularity has been sagging, in elections for the State Duma in December.Skip to next paragraph
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In his acceptance speech, the hyper-popular Putin, whom many Russians have referred to as "national leader" even through the the 4 years of Medvedev's presidency, called it a "great honor." He added that Medvedev might become prime minister in the next Putin administration.
Putin admits to having the plan all along
To the astonishment of some, Putin admitted that this had been the plan all along, and that Medvedev had been party to it.
"I would like to say directly that the agreement about what should be done [was] reached a long time ago, several years ago," Putin told the congress.
But for the past four years the two men have publicly promoted what now appears to be a fiction, that Medvedev was growing into the job of president with the active support of his predecessor and "tandem" partner, Putin.
Medvedev, who says he likes jazz, yoga, and Western rock bands, hinted that he would steer Russia away from the anti-Western foreign policy that marked the Putin era, cultivated the country's beleaguered liberals, occasionally sided with human rights activists against official abuses and generally promoted an image of himself as an Internet-savvy geek who was in tune with the aspirations of Russia's youth.
He repeatedly suggested that he wanted to be president again and did nothing to dissuade supporters who saw in him the hope that the Putin era, with tough curbs on democracy, independent media and civil society, might fade away in the course of a second Medvedev term of office.
Medvedev even allowed a leading Moscow think tank, which he was personally associated with, to produce what looked very much like an election program that might be used in a face off against the more conservative Putin.
"Many people supported Medvedev's line, and criticized Putin," says Stanislav Kucher, an analyst with the pro-business Moscow daily Kommersant. "Now they don't know what to do. Many are scared that Medvedev will abandon them. It's a crushing disappointment. It turns out that Putin was the locomotive of power all along, and everything Medvedev said was just words."