(Repeats to additional clients)
* Three sources say Putin considering return to presidency
* Putin has doubts about Medvedev
* Putin could run in March 2012 presidential election
By Guy Faulconbridge
MOSCOW, July 27 Russian Prime Minister Vladimir
Putin is close to a decision to bid for the presidency in an
election next year because he has doubts about his protege,
President Dmitry Medvedev, senior political sources say.
Putin ruled as president from 2000 to 2008 before handing
over to Medvedev to comply with a constitutional ban on a third
consecutive term. He will be free to run in the March
Putin, 58, and Medvedev, 45, have repeatedly refused to say
which of them will run but as Russia's paramount leader,
officials and diplomats say the decision is Putin's.
"I think Putin is going to run, that he has already decided
to," said a highly placed source who spoke on condition of
anonymity because of the delicacy of the political situation.
The source said Putin had been troubled by the perception
that his protege, whom he has known for more than two decades,
did not have sufficient support among the political and business
elite or the electorate to ensure stability if he pushed ahead
with plans for political reform.
"Putin has much more support from the people than Medvedev.
Medvedev has overestimated his weight inside the system," he
Another highly placed source who declined to be identified
said: "Putin wants to return, really wants to return."
The source said an attempt by Medvedev to assert his
authority in recent months had unsettled Putin, but the two
leaders communicated well on a regular basis.
A third source also said Putin was thinking of running and
that if he became president he could appoint a reformist prime
minister, an apparent attempt to dispel fears that his return
would usher in a period of stagnation two decades after the fall
of the Soviet Union in 1991.
Investors see few differences between the two leaders'
policies but many say privately that Medvedev would be more
likely to carry out reforms than Putin.
Medvedev's spokeswoman, Natalya Timakova, dismissed talk of
any discord between them.
"I do not quite understand where these rumours come from
because the president and the prime minister communicate not
only on formal issues, but informally too," Timakova said.
A senior Kremlin source said it was up to the people, not
the elite, who ruled Russia.
"The discussion should be not about support within the elite
but about who has more support from the people," the Kremlin
source said. "Support from the elite is not always decisive for
the country to move forward."
Asked whether Putin was considering a return to the Kremlin,
the prime minister's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said: "Vladimir
Vladimirovich is working, working hard, rather than thinking
about whether to run in the election."
BATMAN AND ROBIN?
Most officials and foreign diplomats believe that, as the
ultimate arbiter between the powerful clans that make up the
Russian elite, Putin will have the final say on who will run in
As Russia's most popular politician and leader of the ruling
party, Putin would be almost certain to win a newly extended
six-year term if he decided to return to the presidency.
He could also then run again for another term from 2018 to
2024, a quarter of a century since he rose to power in late
1999. He would turn 72 on Oct. 7, 2024.
The picture of Russia's "alpha-dog" ruler eyeing another
Kremlin term corresponds to the assessment of U.S. Ambassador to
Russia John Beyrle who cast Medvedev as playing "Robin to
Putin's Batman", according to leaked U.S. diplomatic cables.
"Russia's bicephalous ruling format is not likely to be
permanent based on Russian history and current tandem dynamics,"
Beyrle wrote in February 2010 according to a copy of the cable
Because of Medvedev's weakness in relation to Putin, the
Kremlin chief's attempt to present himself as anything other
than Putin's loyal protege has puzzled investors and irked some
of the officials who make up part of Putin's court.
In a host of choreographed public events, Medvedev has
pitched himself as the right man for Russia, calling for opening
up the tightly controlled political system crafted by Putin and
even reportedly lobbying Russia's powerful tycoons for support.
A Kremlin insider said it appeared that both Medvedev and
Putin wanted to be president, but that the tandem had not shown
itself to be an effective way to rule Russia.
"Neither Medvedev nor Putin have shown that this
construction is stable," said the source, who added that talk of
any discord was overblown and that Putin had shown his
confidence in Medvedev by steering him into the Kremlin in 2008.
Asked about Medvedev, the source said: "He is not stupid but
he is not a brilliant manager and I am not completely convinced
he has enough steel... Putin does not plan to leave power
(Editing by Angus MacSwan)