Russia's finance chief rebels over Putin plan
Sep 25, 2011, 7:11 a.m.
By Timothy Heritage and Lidia Kelly
MOSCOW/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Russia's finance minister rebelled on Sunday against Vladimir Putin's plan to make President Dmitry Medvedev his prime minister if he returns to the Kremlin by saying he would not serve in the next government.
Foreign investors were alarmed by Alexei Kudrin's snub after Putin announced he will run for president next March in an election that could extend his rule until 2024.
Kudrin, a Putin ally, has prime ministerial ambitions and said he had "disagreements" with Medvedev who may now struggle to establish his credibility as premier after being forced by Putin to renounce his dream of a second term as president.
"I do not see myself in a new government," Kudrin, 50, said in comments released in Washington, where he was meeting global policymakers.
"I think that the disagreements I have (with Medvedev) will not allow me to join this government."
Kudrin won the respect of investors as a guardian of financial stability by saving windfall oil revenues for a rainy-day fund which helped Russia through the 2008 global economic crisis.
"He is as close to Putin as Medvedev. Perhaps this is a bid for the role of prime minister," said Roland Nash, chief strategist at Verno Capital hedge fund.
Chris Weafer, chief strategist at Troika Dialog brokerage, said Putin liked both Medvedev and Kudrin but "will have to make a choice between which of the two he needs more."
Putin and Medvedev have ruled the world's largest country in a power 'tandem' since Putin had to yield the presidency in 2008 after serving the maximum two consecutive terms.
Putin, 58, won a standing ovation by accepting a proposal by Medvedev to return as president at a choreographed congress of the ruling United Russia party on Saturday.
Medvedev, 46, agreed to lead United Russia's list of candidates for a parliamentary election on December 4 in a move intended to help the party retain a two-thirds majority in the lower house and prepare him to become premier.
Putin looks certain to be elected president in March even though some Russians regard the proposed job swap by Putin and Medvedev with mistrust.
"The show went like clockwork. They decided everything for us years ago," said Irina Karpova, a 38-year-old housewife in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg.
Despite such criticism, opinion polls show other potential presidential candidates, such as nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky or Communist Gennady Zyuganov, have little support and liberal opposition leaders have only limited appeal.
Although Medvedev's personal ratings are high, the strength of his prime ministerial credentials are unclear after he failed to carry through many of his reform promises as president.
"Medvedev's usefulness runs out on December 5," one economist said, referring to the day after the parliamentary election.
Medvedev has failed to emerge from Putin's shadow since they started sharing power. By contrast, Putin has in more than a decade in power cultivated the image of a vigorous leader and his policies -- crushing a Chechen separatist rebellion, taming super-rich businessmen and bringing wayward regions to heel -- have buttressed his popularity among Russians.