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Putin Accepts Leadership of Russia's Dominant Political Party

Kremlin leader Vladimir Putin has agreed to head the ruling United Russia Party, whose members voted unanimously in his favor. VOA correspondent Peter Fedynsky reports from Moscow that the selection occurred with remarkable speed after an unusual rule change.

United Russia selected its new leader in a bit of reverse order. First, President Vladimir Putin told the party congress in Moscow he would agree to head the organization. Party members then voted in a unanimous show of hands to a rule change that created a new position of chairman, allowing Mr. Putin to hold it without joining the organization.

This was followed in quick succession by a second open vote, also unanimous, that confirmed Mr. Putin in the newly created job. Current party leader Boris Gryzlov, who will head the party's ruling council, then made brief remarks and the Russian president returned on stage to formally accept the position he agreed to take less than four minutes earlier.

Mr. Putin says Russia needs a consolidation of political forces, and its people need spiritual unity. He adds that responsible leadership is needed at all levels, working as a single organism in the name of the majority but in the interests of each citizen and Russian society as a whole.

Mr. Putin's last word was followed by 20 seconds of polite applause. It took Boris Gryzlov another 11 seconds to declare the Congress over. Delegates departed after playing of the Russian national anthem.

The convention opened a mere 25 hours earlier with Gryzlov ringing a bell as he announced the importance of brain storming in party working groups to craft United Russia's political strategy through 2020. Topics for consideration included such issues as, "The Law versus Corruption," "Search for a Middle Class," "Russian Democracy," "Innovation," and "Technical Leadership in the Economy."

Former lawmaker and political analyst at the Russian Academy of Sciences Alexey Arbatov told VOA that any serious discussion of such issues would take at least two months. He notes that United Russia did not produce the country's leadership, but rather the leadership created the party, whose members rely on the president for their political existence. Arbatov says this dependency makes it difficult to rely on United Russia to resolve the country's problems.

The analyst says serious matters of state will continue to be dealt with by senior officials in the executive branch and the presidential administration, as well as in business and expert circles, and the media.

Speaking earlier, President-elect Dmitri Medvedev said United Russia leaders invited him to join the party. He said although he supports its ideas, he feels it would be best if he avoided direct ties to any political party.

The prospect of current President Putin serving as prime minister and leader of the majority party has again raised speculation in Russia over how he will share power with his successor. Answers to those questions will begin to emerge after the transfer of presidential authority on May 7.