Vladimir Putin hints that he could return to lead Russia until 2024
September 12, 2009
Vladimir Putin hints that he could return to lead Russia until 2024 Richard Beeston in Moscow
Vladimir Putin has given his strongest hint yet that he is considering a return to the Kremlin, a move that could allow the combative Russian leader to stay in power until 2024.
Speaking at the Novo-Ogaryovo official residence outside Moscow, Mr Putin insisted that swapping places with Dimitri Medvedev, the President, was no more sinister than the Labour leadership agreement in which Gordon Brown took Tony Blair’s job.
Mr Putin, who turns 57 next month, expounded on a range of domestic and foreign policy issues that left few in doubt that he remains Russia’s paramount leader, even though he officially occupies the number two position as Prime Minister.
Asked whether he would run again for the presidency, Mr Putin said that he would come to an accommodation with Mr Medvedev, just as the two men had done when Mr Putin stepped down in 2008.
“We will come to an agreement because we are people of the same blood and of the same political views,” he told foreign journalists and academics at the annual Valdai Discussion Club.
“According to the reality of the moment, we will make an analysis and take a decision. Did we compete in 2008? No. So we will not compete in 2012,” Mr Putin said.
This is the strongest hint he has given so far that he is considering returning to the Kremlin. Mr Putin stepped down after serving a maximum two terms as President and allowed Mr Medvedev to run largely unopposed in presidential elections last year.
His term ends in 2012 when new constitutional provisions will allow the next president to serve two six-year terms.
If the men complete this revolving-door manoeuvre Mr Putin could, in theory, be in power until 2024, when he would be 72. Although that is a decade older than most Russian men live, Mr Putin looked fit, alert and certainly confirmed what everyone in the country already knew — that he remains the real power in the land.
When asked who was in charge in Russia, Mr Putin insisted that Mr Medvedev was in control.
“We have nothing to prove to anyone,” he said. “If someone lives in a dream he needs to wake up, take a shower and look at reality. If you want to co-operate with Russia you need to know that it is the President who heads Russia.”
Anatol Lieven, a Russian expert at King’s College London, said that it did not matter whether Mr Putin or Mr Medvedev were president or prime minister. “What he is saying is that the political establishment will remain united and in power,” he said.
The prospect of Mr Putin dominating politics for another decade and a half will shock the liberal minority in the country where, under his rule, human rights and freedom of speech have been curtailed.
It would cause concern across Russia’s borders, where the Kremlin is in open dispute with Ukraine and Georgia, which is still suffering the effects of its war with Russian forces last year.
Many Russians, however, would be delighted with the prospect of having the most popular post-communist politician leading the country. Mr Putin is credited with restoring self-respect, rehabilitating the economy and restoring order after the chaos of the 1990s.
Relations between Russia and the US remain pivotal. Mr Putin said that a visit to Moscow in July by President Obama had improved the atmosphere.
He provided a long list of complaints about outstanding disputes with the Bush Administration regarding Russia’s failed attempt to join the World Trade Organisation and high-handed treatment by Condoleezza Rice, the former US Secretary of State.
Although Russia should be pleased that the Obama Administration is planning to shelve a plan by the former President Bush to base a missile defence system in Eastern Europe, there is still no sign that the two sides will complete a strategic nuclear weapons treaty by the end of the year, when the existing agreement expires.
Relations between Washington and Moscow could come under strain this month over Russia’s relationship with Iran. Russia is helping Iran to build a civilian nuclear reactor and has agreed to sell Tehran sophisticated anti-aircraft missiles.
The US, Britain and France fear that Iran is building a nuclear bomb secretly and are pressing for sanctions at the United Nations. Israel has warned that it may attack the nuclear facilities before Iran builds a nuclear weapon.
Mr Putin deflected questions about whether he had met Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, on a secret visit to Moscow on Monday.
He warned that any attacks against Iran would be counter-productive. “This would be very dangerous, unacceptable, this would lead to an explosion of terrorism, increase the influence of extremists,” he said, adding that he doubted airstrikes would achieve their objective.
Mr Putin added, however: “The Iranians should show restraint in their nuclear programme. We have told Iran that it has the right to a civilian nuclear programme but that it should understand what region of the world it is in.
“This is a dangerous region and Iran should show responsibility, especially by taking into account Israel’s concerns, all the more so after the absolutely unacceptable statements [by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian President] about the destruction of the state of Israel.”
Judo and spying
— Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin Born October 7, 1952, in Leningrad
— Putin did well at school despite an impoverished upbringing. He became interested in judo and spy stories
— He applied to the KGB at the age of 17 but was told that he could not be considered until he had a degree. He graduated from Leningrad State University with a law degree in 1975
— He was a KGB agent in East Germany between 1985 and 1990
— He became Prime Minister in August 1999 and President in March 2000, standing down to become Prime Minister again in 2008