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Sep 24, 2011 | 12:38 GMT

3 mins read

Russia: Putin's Return to the Presidency?

NATALIA KOLESNIKOVA/AFP/Getty Images
At the congress for Moscow's ruling United Russia party Sept. 24, both Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and President Dmitri Medvedev gave speeches on their view of how the party should lead Russia into the future. The speeches have been closely watched for hints on whether Putin or Medvedev (or some other individual) would be the party's nominee for the March 2012 presidential election. As the meeting got under way, it seemed an announcement would be postponed to another day. However, Putin proposed that Medvedev would lead the party into elections and into the future, which seemed to be a message that the current president should remain president. But then Medvedev shocked the congress by announcing that United Russia should support Putin as president — meaning the former president should return for a third term. This is not a formal announcement of Putin's candidacy and only a proposal — and these sorts of proposals at party conferences have been reversed in the past — but it is the clearest indication yet that Putin may return to the presidency. Whether it is Medvedev or Putin in the top post, Russia is unlikely to change how it is run. Even at the party congress, it was repeatedly stated that the identity of the president or prime minister did not matter as much as how the party and its leaders executed the country's plans through 2020 — meaning that the direction of Russia is set. But a concern in Russia persists — especially among the country's powerful security establishment — that Medvedev is viewed internationally as a weak leader compared to his predecessor. As STRATFOR sources have indicated, Putin has not been interested in returning to the presidency unless it were necessary in order to shift the global perception back to a more assertive Kremlin. Putin knows that there are many challenges looming, ranging from managing the reopening of the country to foreign investment to the United States gaining flexibility after wrapping up its wars in the Middle East and South Asia. Putin reiterated in his speech that he has been tasked with ensuring the Russian armed forces are modernized and prepared for what is to come in the next five years. If Putin does indeed return to the presidency, it is an indication that the Kremlin is concerned with showing the strongest front possible in the face of such challenges. As Putin said in his speech, "I have not lost my commander's voice."

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