Russian President Positions Himself to Be Prime Minister
Vladimir V. Putin, who is constitutionally barred from seeking another consecutive term as president of Russia, announced on Monday that he might become prime minister next year.
Putin’s announcement seems to confirm what many analysts had assumed: That he plans to hold onto the power he has accrued over the past eight years.
Putin, who spoke at the congress of the United Russia party, the country’s dominant political force, said he would lead that party’s list in December parliamentary elections.
Putin, who is popular among Russia’s citizens and has consolidated his control of government, has often said he intends to remain involved in politics beyond his second term as president. He has even said that he may seek re-election after another president holds the office, which the Russian constitution would allow.
But until now, Putin had not previously identified a specific political office for himself immediately after the presidential election in March.
“Heading the government is quite a realistic proposal,” Putin said, before adding a qualification he often uses when publicly discussing his plans for 2008: “But it is too early to think about that.”
Putin’s speech here elevated the Kremlin’s stagecraft to new levels. The United Russia’s party congress led the national news broadcasts, which featured scenes of Putin sitting on an elevated viewing stand above each speaker as they addressed a crowd that looked up toward him adoringly.
One speaker, a weaver from the Ivanovo Oblast, or district, pleaded with party officials to find a way to keep Putin in office for a third term. “I see so many big bosses and just smart people at this congress,” said the weaver, Yelena Lapshina. “I appeal to all of you — let’s think of something together so that Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin will remain the president of Russia after 2008 as well.”
The use of a weaver from Ivanovo borrowed directly from Soviet iconography and the pantheon of state-endorsed heroes of the proletariat. Putin’s managers quickly topped even that obvious symbol, as an athlete in a wheelchair rolled onto the stage and praised the president.
“Vladimir Vladimirovich, you are lucky,” said the athlete, Mikhail B. Terentyev, a ski champion from the Paralympic games. The crowd broke out in applause. Terentyev continued. “And while you are the president, the luck accompanies Russia,” he said. “You have become a talisman for tens of millions of people, a symbol of the successful development of the country. Of course it is up to you to decide which place in the country’s political life you will occupy, but no matter what decision you make, I want you to stay with us, with Russia.”
Putin looked down from his seat, head tilted, eyebrows raised, emanating calm and power.
The day’s events ignited a new round of speculation about Putin’s path through the elections ahead.
The prime minister’s position in Russia is often viewed as a step toward the presidency: Putin himself was briefly the premier under President Boris N. Yeltsin before swiftly rising to the seat of power.