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Putin ready to return as Russian president

Sep 24, 2011, 10:21 a.m.
Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev (R) and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin walk along tha stage to address the audience during the United Russia congress in Moscow September 24, 2011. REUTERS/Denis Sinyakov

The main liberal opposition leaders such as former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov have only limited appeal nationwide and Kasyanov's party has been barred from taking part in the parliamentary election.

The next president will be elected for six years and the constitution still limits the head of state to a maximum of two straight terms -- meaning Putin could be in power for 12 years.

Investors had been urging him to announce his plans because the political uncertainty has deterred many from putting money into the $1.5 trillion economy of the world's largest energy producer.

As president from 2000 to 2008, Putin oversaw an economic boom where household incomes improved on the back of a rise in global oil prices and his tough talking and macho image helped restore Russia's self confidence on the world stage.

But Putin, who was once a KGB officer in East Germany, is widely seen as more conservative than Medvedev and critics accuse him of riding roughshod over human rights and democracy, and restoring the power of the security forces.

ERA OF STAGNATION?

Some economists say his return to the Kremlin makes it less likely that Russia will carry out much-needed changes such as pension reforms and reducing Russia's dependency on natural resources. Oil and gas revenues make up half the budget.

But Chris Weafer, a strategist at Troika Dialog investment bank, said the need for change made it impossible for Putin not to carry out reforms.

"There will not be a return to the government style and agenda priorities of the previous Putin administration. That simply is not an option," he said.

Some experts fear a return to the economic stagnation of the 1970s and early 1980s under Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev if reforms are made, and problems such as corruption will remain.

Andrei Piontkovsky, a political analyst at the Russian Academy of Sciences, warned of "stagnation and decay for another 12 years ... the Brezhnev era revisited."

Putin's return to the presidency puts at risk the good reputation he established among many Russians for restoring a degree of stability after President Boris Yeltsin's chaotic presidency in the 1990s following the Soviet Union's collapse.

But senior political sources had said Putin was worried by a perception that Medvedev did not have enough support among political and business leaders to ensure stability if he tried to carry out political reforms as president.

Other political sources suggested Putin simply did not trust Medvedev enough to allow him another six years as president and has been disappointed with his performance.

"I fully agree (with Putin's decision to run). He is a very good and a wise man," said Denis, a Muscovite in his mid-20s.

But some Russians complain there is still a lack of democracy and media freedom in Russia and that they have little say in who runs the nuclear power of 142 million people.

"Our opinion does not count, as (the outcome) of both the current and the previous elections was pre-determined," said Anna, a Muscovite in her 20s.

(Additional reporting by Gleb Bryanski, Steve Gutterman, Alexei Anishchuk, Douglas Busvine and Thomas Grove; editing by Ralph Boulton and Kevin Liffey)

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