Print options

May 17, 2011

Russia’s President Not Revealing Election Plans

by James Brooke

Hundreds of reporters traveled to the outskirts of Moscow for a special news conference by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, thinking he might reveal if he plans to run for re-election, but, his intentions are still not known.

Mr. Medvedev was coy about running for re-election, but he raised his national profile by talking tough about NATO during what was billed as the first major news conference of his three year presidency.  More than 800 reporters attended the event at a new business school in Skolkovo, a Moscow suburb.  

Although presidential elections are next March, President Medvedev ducked direct questions on his candidacy.

He said a news conference was not the right format for an announcement, but added the lack of clarity cannot go on ‘endlessly.’  The 45-year-old president seemed relaxed and self-confident.  Broadcast live, the two-hour session appeared designed to raise his profile nationally.

In a crowd pleaser for many Russians, the president criticized NATO for planning a missile-defense system for Europe without inviting Russia to take part.  If Washington did not invite Russia to participate in constructing a missile defense shield, he said that Russia would have to increase its nuclear strike capabilities.  He called this “a scenario that would throw us back into the Cold-War era.”

Any step, whether running for re-election or embarking on an arms race, would have to coordinated with his mentor, Vladimir Putin. Widely viewed as the more powerful of the pair, Prime Minister Putin’s support is seen as essential for the president to run for re-election.

Although there have been some minor disagreements between the two leaders, both men appear to fear that as soon as an announcement is made, one of them will quickly become a powerless lame duck.  Some analysts speculate that the ruling duo, known here as the tandem, will simply switch jobs.  Mr. Putin will reclaim the presidency and Mr. Medvedev will serve as his prime minister.

Today, Russia’s president allowed reporters to glimpse a little daylight between the two.

Mr. Medvedev stressed they have a 20-year friendship and are “really very like-minded”

But on the issue of the modernization of Russia’s economy, he said he favors a faster pace than the prime minister.

On the issue of Mikhail Khordokovsky, the jailed oil tycoon, President Medvedev said his release from jail would represent, "Absolutely no danger at all” to Russian society.  Last December, Prime Minister Putin called Khordokovsky a thief and compared him to the American gangster Al Capone.

At one point, the Russian president said it is wrong for rulers to stay in power for too long.  He said, "No-one stays in power forever, and if anyone has that kind of illusion then they will end badly."

But he said that in reference to Russia's powerful regional governors, not to the tandem at Russia’s top.