MOSCOW Russian President Dmitry Medvedev set out his credentials as an alternative leader to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on Wednesday, but the decision on who will run in the 2012 election will depend on his mentor.
* Medvedev told the biggest news conference of his presidency that he would make an announcement soon on whether he would run but played down talk of a rift with Putin, a man he called his "political partner.
Most voters, foreign diplomats and investors say they view Putin as Russia's paramount leader and say he will have the final word on which of the two men contests the presidency in March next year.
An open rift between Medvedev and Putin would mean a political crisis and diplomats say Putin remains by far the stronger man.
* Medvedev clearly sought to present himself as an alternative to the 58-year-old former KGB spy who steered him into the Kremlin in 2008, partly by differentiating himself from Putin on several issues by saying:
- Russia could be modernized faster than Putin thought
- The government would need new faces in 2012 no matter who was prime minister
- Jailed oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky was no danger to the public
- Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin should be criticized over the collapse of BP's deal with Rosneft [ID:nLDE74H0R5]
"Medvedev was trying to demonstrate that he is different to Putin, that he has his own opinion and that he can be president," said a trader at a Western investment bank in Moscow, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
* Medvedev also sought to reassure Putin loyalists -- and Russia's most influential voter -- by playing down talk of a rift and hinting at how he needed Putin's political support to run.
"But that doesn't mean we agree on everything. It must not be that way, that would be very boring and simply wrong," the Kremlin chief told more than 800 journalists.
At one point, an unusually confident Medvedev even quipped with reporters that he thought every second question would be about 2012 or his relations with Putin.
But he said that if he did run for president he would hope to rely on the parties that have supported him before, a clear reference to the ruling United Russia party which Putin leads.
That is a direct recognition of his reliance on Putin for a successful presidential bid.
* Medvedev pitched himself as a leader who would accelerate the reforms he says Russia needs to reduce reliance on the oil, gas and metals which make up the bulk of its exports.
But the Kremlin chief did not announce any specific reforms, a step that is likely to underline the perception of some investors that he has failed to bring much change to Russia since being sworn in as president in May 2008.
* Medvedev declined to answer directly a question on whether he would sack Putin's government but said the cabinet would need new faces after the 2012 presidential election.
He underlined that the president has the power to appoint and dismiss the government: "I have not changed this and have not renounced these powers."
* In his first public comment on the collapse of a deal between BP and Rosneft, Medvedev indirectly criticized Putin's trusted ally, Deputy Prime Minister Sechin, and BP chief executive Bob Dudley, saying that those who prepared the deal should have paid closer attention to the details.
(Editing by Mark Trevelyan)