|Vladimir Putin is expected to face painful and unpopular decisions over the coming years as oil production levels off.|
Putin will seek another term as president in 2012 election
Medvedev agrees to move into role of prime minister
MOSCOW - Vladimir V. Putin, who transformed post-Soviet Russia by imposing strict Kremlin control over most aspects of public life, publicly signaled that he will return to the presidency next year and could remain until 2024, giving him a rule comparable in length with that of Brezhnev or Stalin.
President Dmitry A. Medvedev announced yesterday at a party convention in Moscow that he would step aside for Putin, who served as president from 2000 to 2008 but was limited by the constitution to two consecutive terms. Medvedev is to take his place as prime minister after presidential elections in March, which Putin is assured of winning.
At the announcement, wave upon wave of applause washed over the hall, where 11,000 members of Putin’s party, United Russia, had gathered. Medvedev’s face was projected on a giant screen above the stage, and he gave a flickering smile as the crowd roared, rose, and swung its attention away from him toward Putin, who was sitting in the audience.
The announcement brings an end to years of uncertainty, inside and outside Russia, about whether Putin intended to loosen his grip on power. Neither leader offered any reason for the decision, but Putin said the deal had been made years ago.
If that is true, Medvedev’s presidency, and the tension that accompanied its end, now looks like an orchestrated political drama that drew in much of the world.
“I want to say directly: An agreement over what to do in the future was reached between us several years ago,’’ Putin said. Medvedev also said there had been no conflict, though his account was less definitive.
“What we are recommending to the convention, it is a deeply thought-out decision,’’ Medvedev said. “Moreover, we really discussed this possible development of events at the period, when we formed our comradely union.’’
As the news filtered into the street, most Russians expressed little surprise. Putin’s rise to power accompanied an oil-fueled rise in personal incomes, and ended the chaotic and sometimes violent political pluralism of the 1990s.
Opposition to Putin’s government has grown strongest in places like Moscow, whose residents are not as reliant on government transfers and state-controlled television.
There is little evidence that the change will portend dramatic policy shifts.
Medvedev has called for political and judicial reforms that would decentralize power away from the Kremlin, and his rhetoric won him the backing of many in the West and in progressive circles.
But he did not push through substantial political or judicial reforms during his presidency and was widely viewed as a weak executive.
Putin, meanwhile, has signaled in recent months that he may restyle himself as an economic reformer, wrapping himself in the mantle of the czarist prime minister Peter Stolypin.
Putin, who will turn 59 in October, is expected to face painful and unpopular decisions over the coming years as oil production levels off and the rise in Russians’ standards of living will slow.
In 2014, Russia’s oil production will no longer offset imports of consumer goods, forcing the government to be increasingly dependent on foreign investment.