Russia: Vladimir Putin, Dmitry Medvedev plan swap

Looking ahead to an era of uncertainty and economic troubles, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev told Russia on Saturday that they intend to swap jobs, putting the country on an authoritarian path for years to come.

Vladimir Putin

In theory, the switch requires voters' approval in March, but in practice not much stands in the way, with opposition parties hobbled and Putin's party dominant.

The move would put Putin back in the presidency after a four-year absence. The two six-year terms he would be allowed under the Constitution would take him to 2024, when he will turn 72. Always the stronger of the two, Putin saw the weak Medvedev he nurtured as not up to the job of guiding Russia through a difficult stretch.

Vladimir Putin

Putin sees himself as the indispensable man, but his return would be unlikely to change Russia's essential approach because he has always been in charge. It may send a signal to bureaucrats across the country that the liberal niceties no longer need to be given notice. But more than anything, it is a commitment to preserving as much of the status quo - corrupt, crony politics - as possible.

Putin's return was widely expected, though it deeply disappointed those who have hoped against hope for a more democratic Russia.

As prime minister, Medvedev said Saturday, he would continue to press for a liberalization of the country. But analysts predict that will amount to nothing more than the gloss he has spread as president.

The news came at Saturday's congress of the ruling United Russia party, a Putin creation. When Medvedev announced that he wasn't going to run for re-election in March and asked the delegates to endorse Putin, the crowd at the Luzhniki covered stadium erupted into cheers.

Since 2008, Medvedev, 46, and Putin, 58, have styled themselves as the "tandem." Medvedev, who came from Gazprom, the giant state-owned natural gas company, was the face of modernization. Putin, who came from the KGB, was the tough guy, the outdoorsman who beat the Chechen separatists in a ruthless war.

At the conference of the opposition Parnas Party, which has been refused permission to take part in December's parliamentary elections, the news was greeted with laughter.

"It will hasten the collapse of the system," said Mikhail Kasyanov, a former prime minister who turned against Putin.

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