Putin Launches His Bid for Kremlin With a Hug
Published: September 28, 2011 (Issue # 1676)
IGOR TABAKOV / SPT
Putin (l) and Medvedev silhouetted against United Russia’s logo at a pre-election party convention in Luzhniki last Saturday.
MOSCOW — It was the hug that sealed the deal.
President Dmitry Medvedev left the stage to thunderous applause after announcing Saturday at a United Russia convention that he endorsed Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s return as president.
More than 11,000 United Russia delegates and supporters, clearly delighted with the news, stood and clapped as Medvedev walked back to his seat next to Putin in the middle of the sixth row.
Then Putin wrapped his arms around Medvedev, his teeth barred in what looked like a forced smile, for a seconds-long embrace.
Putin and Medvedev declared at the convention that they intended to swap jobs next year: Putin will run in the March 2012 presidential election, and Medvedev is ready to take over the government if Putin wins.
Both leaders announced the moves in carefully staged appearances at the United Russia pre-election convention for the State Duma, ending months of political uncertainty that had paralyzed the country.
Putin was the first to address the attendees, including 639 delegates, in the Luzhniki sports palace.
He told them that Medvedev, his protege, should head the electoral list for the Dec. 4 Duma elections, saying it would be best not to break with the practice of past elections that the incumbent president leads United Russia’s list.
“I believe this will raise the party’s authority and ensure its expected and just victory,” he told the cheering convention.
Medvedev then took to the stage to say he accepted Putin’s proposal and, in return, endorsed the prime minister as his successor.
“In light of the proposal that I head the party list, engage in party work and my willingness to engage in government work if we do well in the elections, I think the party convention should support the candidacy of party chairman Vladimir Putin as the country’s president,” Medvedev said.
When the convention burst into applause, he added, “This means I don’t need to explain the experience and authority commanded by Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin.”
After receiving Medvedev’s embrace, Putin returned to the stage to deliver a dry, hourlong speech about past achievements and future tasks, dwelling mainly on economic and social politics.
At the end of his address, he said, almost in passing, that Medvedev could build a young energetic team and “head the Russian government so that he can continue his work to modernize all walks of our life.”
When Medvedev then delivered his second address, he declared himself ready to head the government. “When we manage to get a new government, I am prepared to lead that government and continue to work for the good of the country,” he said.
Putin, who served eight years as president starting in 2000, was widely seen as the country’s top decision maker even after he handed over the presidency to Medvedev in 2008. The Constitution allows only two consecutive terms.
Putin is set to win the 2012 election, given his unrivaled popularity, the divided opposition and the authorities’ demonstrated unwillingness to register serious opposition candidates.
If he is re-elected for two consecutive terms, he could remain in power until 2024 because of a constitutional reform, initiated by Medvedev, that lengthens the presidential term from four to six years. (The Duma’s legislative period was also lengthened to five instead of four years.)
While many political observers had believed that Putin would return to the Kremlin, an announcement at the party convention was not widely expected. One senior United Russia deputy, however, correctly predicted the announcement in an interview published in The Moscow Times on Friday. But conventional wisdom suggested that the veil would be lifted only after it became clear how United Russia performed in the Duma elections.
Pundits said the decision to end the uncertainty now dealt an irreparable blow to Medvedev’s political credibility.
Gleb Pavlovsky, a political consultant who was fired as a longtime Kremlin adviser earlier this year, called it the president’s capitulation. “Maybe it was voluntary, maybe not. But it remains a unique fact that the post of president in a nuclear power has changed hands through a private deal,” he told Gazeta.ru.
Putin told the convention right at the beginning that an agreement about what he and Medvedev would be doing had been reached “years ago.” But he added apologetically that “who sits in which place” was not the most important issue. “Much more important is this: which results we achieve and what our citizens think of them; how our people react and how much they support us,” he said.