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Putin names presidential successor

Russian President Vladimir Putin ended months of speculation through naming his candidate to continue at the helm of the country, Dmitry Medvedev, chairman of gas giant Gazprom.

Putin's surprise announcement on Monday transformed First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, a soft-spoken technocrat and chairman of gas giant Gazprom, into clear frontrunner in the March 2, 2008, presidential election.

The nomination - which makes Medvedev, 42, so far the only serious candidate in the race - also kept the door open for Putin to retain power behind the throne, analysts said.

“I have known him for more than 17 years, I have worked with him closely all these years, and I completely and fully support this candidacy,” Putin said on state-run Channel One after four political parties nominated Medvedev.

That statement was seen as virtually guaranteeing victory for Medvedev.

Zubkov said he knew about Medvedev's nomination ahead of the announcement. “The president and I discussed this question,” Zubkov said during a visit to the port of Nevelsk in the Russian Far East, RIA Novosti news agency reported.

Russian Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov on Tuesday voiced his support for Medvedev, saying the two had worked together 15 years ago "in Saint Petersburg and he gave the impression of being a successful person. Very good choice.

Russian newspapers said Tuesday Medvedev will be elected but will have only limited powers. The liberal “Medvedev won the tender and became the successor” on Monday but he “will have to take into account the views of the siloviki,” or Kremlin security hawks, the Vedomosti daily said, citing sources in the Kremlin.

The siloviki “will be given key posts in the government,” Vedomosti said. The business daily also said that Medvedev would have to heed Putin's instructions and follow an economic development program running until 2020 that is due to be adopted ahead of the March 2008 presidential election.

“Dmitry Medvedev will be elected Russia's third president on March 2, 2008,” said the Vremya Novostei daily, adding however the stability of his rule would depend on Putin's own future place in Russia's political system. According to a senior official quoted by Vremya Novostei, Putin “will be an executive adviser for the future president on an unlimited range of issues.”

The Kommersant daily did not comment on the likelihood of Medvedev's election but said that his nomination at a Kremlin meeting on Monday seemed like “a show” where everyone “played their role well.”

Even though Medvedev's name was put forward at that meeting by four political parties including the ruling United Russia party rather than by Putin “it was clear who chose” the candidate, Kommersant said.

Already on Tuesday the diminutive trained lawyer was due to meet with political leaders in the lower house of parliament, the State Duma -- his first outing as Putin's designated successor. The choice surprised some observers because Medvedev is a relative liberal in the Kremlin and unlike most of Putin's allies is not known to have served in the Soviet KGB. Although touted in the media as a possible successor he has never suggested he wanted the job. However, analysts said Medvedev was an ideal choice if Putin, 55, wants to retain authority after ending his second consecutive term next year.

Putin has often said he wants to keep an important role, but not explained which. Options considered most likely for Putin include becoming prime minister, heading the Kremlin Security Council, or even taking over as chief of a new state combining Russia and ex-Soviet republic Belarus - which Putin is due to visit Thursday and Friday.

Medvedev, who heads a program of government social projects and is outside the circle of hawkish officials dominating the Kremlin, owes his entire career to Putin.

“Medvedev is incapable of forming his own clan and he will always need Putin,” Yury Korgunyuk, at the Indem Foundation, said. Vladimir Pribylovsky, at the Panorama think tank, said Medvedev was loyal and “guarantees Putin the status quo.”

The Moscow stock market's RTS index leapt immediately by 1.62% to 2,323.37 points, while shares in state-owned Gazprom, the world's biggest gas company, shot up 3%.

Alexei Sidorenko, at the Moscow Carnegie Centre, said that Putin could still allow a rival candidate to emerge. “It's not the last surprise of this presidential campaign.” However, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said such a development was “unlikely. (Putin) quite openly gave his support to one candidate.” Boris Nemtsov, one of the leaders of Russia's enfeebled liberal opposition, attacked Medvedev's nomination as “humiliating for the people, when the authorities determine who needs to be supported,” Interfax reported. Most observers had been expecting Putin to give his choice next Monday when United Russia holds a congress.

Putin, whose United Russia party swept to a controversial landslide in elections last weekend, took pains to emphasize the support for Medvedev from four parties - United Russia, A Just Russia, the Agrarians and Civic Force. “This gives a chance to create the conditions for carrying out the course that has brought results all these last eight years,” Putin said.

A lawyer by training, Medvedev was hired by Putin in the early 1990s to work on his staff at the Saint Petersburg local government. After serving as Putin's campaign manager for his successful 2000 election run, Medvedev was appointed presidential chief of staff in the Kremlin and later chairman of Gazprom, the jewel in Russia's energy crown. (rian.ru)