MOSCOW (Reuters) - A Russian government agency has registered the web address Putin-2012.rf in a sign Prime Minister Vladimir Putin plans to run in a presidential election he would seem almost certain to win.
Russia’s Federal Bodyguard Service registered six domain names combining Putin’s name or initials with “2012,” according to the official Cyrillic domain database, stat.ref.ru. It did not do the same for President Dmitry Medvedev.
Putin says he has not decided whether to run in 2012, saying he and Medvedev will decide on a joint candidate closer to the time. But many diplomats and analysts expect him to return to the Kremlin, shunting Medvedev into a lesser post.
“Nobody believes any more that Medvedev will run, because Putin seems to have started his campaign already,” said Alexei Mukhin, an analyst at the Center for Political Information.
Putin was president from 2000-08 and is widely regarded as Russia’s leader, despite the formal presidential structure of the system. He handpicked Medvedev to succeed him after the end of his second consecutive Kremlin term, the maximum allowed by the constitution.
Putin is eligible to stand again for a new term in 2012 and could potentially serve for 12 more years in a row, because the presidential term has been lengthened to six years from four.
He remains by far the most popular politician in Russia, though opponents accuse him of manipulating the system by control of the media and curbing the right to demonstrate.
Putin’s chief spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said that the web address was not an indication that the prime minister was planning a return to the Kremlin.
“This is a necessary measure aimed at preventing malicious use of domain names linked to popular personalities,” he told Reuters.
The Cyrillic web domains were among over 400 registered by the communications department of the bodyguards service, which is responsible for providing secure communications for senior officials.
In all it has registered 22 Cyrillic web sites containing the word Putin, and seven containing the word Medvedev.
Sites with the addresses putin2000.ru and putin2004.ru promoted Putin’s 2000 and 2004 presidential campaigns.
Additional reporting by Gleb Bryanski; Editing by Ralph Boulton