Mr. Putin has, at least officially, occupied the No. 2 seat in Russia since constitutional term limits forced him to step down in 2008, following 10 years as one of Russia’s most powerful and controversial leaders. He handpicked Mr. Medvedev as his successor, and took the post of prime minister, but many analysts believe he continues to run the show from behind the scenes.
In recent weeks, speculation has been rife that Putin may seek office again in 2012 elections. The subject got a fresh boost Thursday when Medvedev, who is the United States for a G20 summit, made a public appearance at the University of Pittsburgh, Penn., reports Russia’s ITAR-TASS news service:
Asked whether he was ready to swap places with Putin after 2012 and become the prime minister, Medvedev said he was ready to work at any post if it benefits the country.
“I do not like to guess the future, but if it benefits the country I am ready to work at any post,” he said.
[Putin] fuelled a wave of speculation earlier this month by telling foreign academics and journalists he and Medvedev would decide which of them will run in the next elections.
Putin said he and Medvedev would not compete.
If reelected, Mr. Putin could stay in power as long as 2024, thanks to recent constitutional amendments that extend terms to six years. How this power succession plays out is being tensely watched inside and outside of Russia, as The Times points out:
The prospect of Mr Putin dominating politics for another decade and a half will shock the liberal minority in the country where, under his rule, human rights and freedom of speech have been curtailed.
It would cause concern across Russia’s borders, where the Kremlin is in open dispute with Ukraine and Georgia, which is still suffering the effects of its war with Russian forces last year.
Many Russians, however, would be delighted with the prospect of having the most popular post-communist politician leading the country. Mr Putin is credited with restoring self-respect, rehabilitating the economy and restoring order after the chaos of the 1990s.
Putin, back in the prime minister's job after two successful terms in the Kremlin, is now regarded as Russia's indispensable leader. He has consistently higher public approval ratings – averaging a celestial 74 percent over the past 10 years – than his handpicked successor, President Dmitry Medvedev. Many experts believe it is Putin who actually rules Russia …