Vladimir Putin, who is barred from running for president in next year's election, indicated yesterday he had found a way to stay in power anyway, stunning observers by saying it was "entirely realistic" that he could become prime minister.
While the President, who has signalled his wish to stay involved in politics, can't seek a third consecutive term under the Russian constitution, there is nothing to prevent him from becoming prime minister.
Mr. Putin made the comment at a meeting of the main pro-Kremlin force, United Russia, where he announced he would head the party's list for the December parliamentary election. "Heading the government is a realistic idea," he told the party's congress when asked about his plans.
Mr. Putin added that it was "early" to be discussing himself as a candidate, but that he would be prepared to take the prime minister's post on two conditions: that United Russia won the parliamentary poll, and that a "decent, competent and effective person with whom I could work" was elected as president in the spring of 2008.
Analysts said United Russia's victory was a foregone conclusion and the next president was bound to be accommodating because he would be anointed by Mr. Putin himself.
The Russian leader has maintained high popularity ratings throughout his seven years in the presidency and a poll last month indicated that 64 per cent of Russians would vote for him if he could run next year. His successor is likely to be the candidate that he publicly endorses, Globe and Mail reports.
The Russian leader also said: "I accept with gratitude your proposal to head the United Russia list." However, Putin said he does not want to be a member of any party.
"Although I was an initiator in the establishment of United Russia, I, like the overwhelming majority of the country's citizens, do not belong to a party and am reluctant to change this status," he said.
United Russia opened its pre-election congress, which is the party's eighth, in Moscow earlier Monday.
About 2,000 guests and delegates from the regions gathered for the event, with about 1,000 journalists attending.
A member of Russia's Central Election Commission said Monday the law allows Putin to head the United Russia party list at the December elections.
"According to the current legislation, the president is not banned from forwarding his candidacy at any elections, including those to the State Duma," Maya Grishina said.
She said the president could continue his duties and does not have to take any leave, but cannot use his position to attract voters, rian.ru reports.