Vladimir Putin is hinting that he’ll seek re-election as president of Russia when he’s again eligible in 2012.

Janet McBride for Reuters:

Ever since Putin’s presidential term expired last year and he made way for his chosen successor Dmitry Medvedev, there has been speculation the move was only temporary.

Putin, now serving as prime minister, remains extremely popular among Russian voters despite the economic downturn and he continues to dominate the political scene.

Speaking to the Valdai discussion group of Russia experts, Putin said the transition at the top in 2007/8 had been a smooth one and there would not be any competition between himself and Medvedev in 2012. “We share political views.” “In 2012 we shall think together and take into account the realities of the time, our personal plans, the political landscape…and we will take a decision,” he said.

Academics attending the three-hour lunch at Putin’s summer house outside Moscow said Putin was preparing the ground for a possible return and it was clear he was calling the shots.

The next president will serve a six-year term following a change to the constitution rushed through shortly after Medvedev took office. Putin could serve two consecutive terms, meaning he might not step down until 2024.

“My impression is that by saying there cannot be any competition and they are of one mind, he is making clear that whatever the decision is, it is Putin’s to make,” said James Sherr, head of the Russia and Eurasia program at British think-tank Chatham House.

Putin left the Kremlin in May 2008 after eight years as president but he remains a towering figure in the capacity of prime minister, a role that is traditionally secondary here. He also leads the dominant political party, United Russia.

What’s amusing about such speculation, aside from the fact that it’s ridiculously premature, is that it likely doesn’t make much difference.  Every indication is that Medvedev is Putin’s Lurleen Wallace (minus the fringe benefits, one presumes). Regardless of whether one calls the man “premier,” “president,” or “commissar,” he’s the man running the show. 

James Joyner is managing editor of the Atlantic Council. Photo: REUTERS/RIA Novosti/Pool/Aleksey Nikolskyi.

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