MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin have said they will decide later this year who will run for president in March 2012.
They have hinted that one of them, but not both, will run for a newly extended six-year term. The decision is unlikely to be announced until after a parliamentary election in early December.
Regardless of who runs as the Kremlin’s candidate, there is a high probability that Putin — the dominant partner in a ruling tandem with Medvedev, the protege he steered into the Kremlin in 2008 — will remain Russia’s paramount leader.
Following are the scenarios for 2012:
President from 2000-2008 during an oil-fueled economic boom, Putin is Russia’s most popular politician and would easily win if he stands in the election.
His choice of a prime minister would offer clues to policy plans and the political future.
He could appoint Medvedev, extending the tandem rule but reversing roles. That would most probably signal a continuation of gradual reform efforts which have so far failed to end Russia’s energy reliance or make major changes in its weak institutions.
A lower-level job for Medvedev would most probably put paid to any ambition he may have to succeed Putin as leader.
That would deepen uncertainty over a future handover of power by Putin, who could be president until 2024, and would deepen the dissatisfaction of Russian liberals who had hoped that Medvedev’s presidency would bring change.
Putin’s return to the Kremlin would imply the preservation of his policy of control over domestic politics in the name of stability, which could prompt growing opposition if Russia’s emerging middle class demanded greater democracy.
The return of Putin, a longtime Soviet KGB officer who is perceived in the West as a man with Cold War instincts, would be greeted warily in the United States and European Union.
While it appears that one of Medvedev’s mandates from Putin has been to improve ties with the West, Putin himself could pursue a more confrontational foreign policy. Medvedev has embraced the U.S. effort to “reset” relations with Russia and says he has a good relationship with President Barack Obama.
Putin has turned to a range of economists for advice on post-election policy, suggesting he may not have clear plans.
Putin is not likely to drop the economic modernization agenda that Medvedev has pursued, but may step back from it in practice and focus on traditional industries and the energy sector.
With Putin’s backing, Medvedev would have little trouble winning the election. He would pursue the goal of diversifying and modernizing the economy, on which little progress has been made so far.
If Putin were to stay on as prime minister, there would be little change in Russia’s tandem rule and its “no sharp swings” policy of previous years, making it difficult for Medvedev to pursue an independent agenda.
Medvedev would need Putin’s approval to pick a different prime minister — a move that is not expected and would raise questions about Putin’s future role.
Most officials say that Putin will continue to lead as president or prime minister, though he could continue to influence politics from almost any role, including his position as leader of the ruling party.
Should Putin retire from a leading role, Medvedev would need to demonstrate that he could keep the country — and its powerful security services, influential tycoons, growing nationalist movement and opposition — under control.
If political or economic stability appeared under threat, Putin might return to try to restore order.
Medvedev’s nominee for prime minister would suggest how hard he is prepared to press for change, such as pension, fiscal and institutional reforms, which could put him at odds with pensioners and public sector workers — Putin’s main power base.
It is highly unlikely that Medvedev and Putin will run for president, whether by agreement or because of a rift.
Igor Yurgens, head of INSOR thinktank which is seen to be close to Medvedev, has said that such a scenario — giving voters a choice between Putin and Medvedev — was considered but that the idea was dropped.
Were Medvedev to decide to run without Putin’s approval, he would face large challenges because his support base is minimal. Putin leads the United Russia party, which dominates legislatures and administrations nationwide.
Some political analysts say that Putin may decide to back a third candidate for president — neither himself nor Medvedev — who could carry out unpopular reforms such as raising the retirement age.
This scenario is so far unlikely, as there is no sign so far that anyone is being groomed.
Putin tapped Medvedev as his favored successor less than three months before the March 2008 vote, but he had gone through a rigorous if unspoken competition with another potential candidate, Sergei Ivanov, for many months beforehand.
A third candidate could be chosen if Putin or Medvedev were somehow incapacitated. But to gain approval ratings similar to those of Putin or Medvedev, a third candidate would need to gain generous coverage on Russian state television by mid-year.
- Rising oil prices give Putin and Medvedev a healthy budget to calm unrest and increase social spending before the election. That could lead to price rises.
- Any major unrest before the election or a war could change the picture for 2012 and increase pressure on Putin to return to impose order.
- If Russia faced deep economic crisis, there would be pressure to reform while Putin would be expected to lead anti-crisis efforts. Watch the rouble and foreign currency reserves.
- A series of attacks by insurgents from the North Caucasus against the Russian heartland could increase the clout of hardliners.
- A sharp deterioration in relations with any of Russia’s neighbors could increase pressure on Putin to return.
- Any high level sackings in the Kremlin or the government could indicate a shift in the balance of power between Putin and Medvedev.
- Major assets changing hands could suggest a shift in power between the country’s most powerful tycoons and therefore shifting alliances before the election.
- Capital outflows: an acceleration in capital outflows would indicate a lack of confidence within the elite before 2012.
Writing by Gleb Bryanski; editing by Steve Gutterman