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Seat warmer: Russia's Medvedev stepping aside for 'more popular' Putin

Dmitry Medvedev admits a deal was made in which he would hold onto the presidency until Putin was constitutionally allowed to return to office. Medvedev's supporters are not amused.

By Correspondent / September 30, 2011

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev speaks during his meeting with cultural officials from the town of Vyazma in the Gorki residence outside Moscow, Thursday.

Dmitry Astakhov/Presidential Press Service/RIA Novosti/AP

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Moscow

Incumbent Russian President Dmitry Medvedev broke nearly a week's silence Friday on why he meekly stepped aside and allowed Vladimir Putin to take the ruling United Russia party's presidential nomination – which virtually guarantees Mr. Putin's victory in elections next March.

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His explanation: Putin is more popular.

"Prime Minister Putin is definitely the most authoritative politician in our country and his rating is somewhat higher [than mine]," Mr. Medvedev said in remarks broadcast on all major Russian TV networks and published in full on the Kremlin's official website.

At a convention of United Russia last weekend, Medvedev ended years of speculation by nominating Putin to be the party's standard bearer. Since the Kremlin-backed United Russia traditionally deploys vast resources to ensure its desired result, and any serious opponents are winnowed from the ballot well in advance, there seems little doubt that former President Putin is set to return for one, and probably two, six-year terms that may see him dominating the Kremlin until 2024.

In his acceptance speech, Putin stunned even some hard-boiled Russia observers by admitting that he and Medvedev had cooked up this plan "several years ago," apparently as a way of keeping Putin's chair warm while he sidestepped the Russian Constitution's ban on any single person serving more than two consecutive terms as president.

Medvedev, in his remarks Friday, seemed at pains to explain to his supporters – including many liberal-minded people who had taken his declarations about the need to reform Russia's top-heavy, heavily centralized, and corruption-ridden political system at face value – by suggesting he might have fought for the nomination if he'd been more popular.

"I was not deceiving anyone when I said the things I did, because life can indeed make sudden changes to any plans and scenarios," he said. "At the same time, yes, we did already have an agreement between us."

Unlike the US, where the two major political parties hold exhaustive primaries for their presidential candidates, and inner-party primary challenges to an incumbent president are not unheard of, the members of United Russia had no say whatsoever in the decision Putin and Medvedev sprung on them last weekend.

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