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Awaiting surprises

It is whispered that Vladimir Putin is about to step down as prime minister and become Duma chairman.

The United Russia convention opening later today may become as sensational as the previous one when Prime Minister Vladimir Putin accepted chairmanship in the ruling party. Since Putin accepted chairmanship without even being United Russia member, some observers expect that he will formalize his membership in the party at this convention. Some lawmakers even suggest that Putin will step down as the premier (no great loss, considering the economic crisis under way) to become Duma chairman. Boris Gryzlov, Chairman of the Supreme Council of United Russia, revealed agenda of the convention, yesterday. President Dmitry Medvedev is expected at the convention, Gryzlov said, and Putin will make a report on realization of the Strategy'2020 plan. Some changes in the charter are expected as well. The ruling party intends to introduce six-month candidacy for membership-seekers and make payment of party fees optional.

Changes in the Supreme Council composition are probably the only issue on the agenda that promise at least some intrigue. LDPR leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky was the first to draw attention to it, and Zhirinovsky is known as the man the Kremlin uses as a mouthpiece to air some particularly disputable ideas and gauge society's reaction to them. LDPR leader appraised Putin's resignation as a distinct possibility and ascribed it to the presidential initiatives concerning amendment of the Constitution (annual reports of the Cabinet to the parliament and other measures strengthening the legislative branch of the government).

"Being prime minister when the national economy is splitting along the seams is risky indeed," Ilya Ponomarev of the Fair Russia faction observed and suggested that premiership would be offered to Senior Deputy Premier Igor Shuvalov. According to Ponomarev, United Russia will suggest at the convention prosecution of Cabinet members for inadequate implementation of the anti-crisis program.

United Russia members in the meantime regard Putin's formal membership in the ruling party a correct move. At the same time, they do not expect Putin to resign as the premier. "Step down in order to weather the storm? Come on. I do not think that Putin ever gave anyone a reason to doubt that he will be the last man to jump the ship," Victor Pleskachevsky of the United Russia faction commented.

A government functionary declined comments on the speculations, yesterday. CEO of the National Energy Security Fund Konstantin Simonov in the meantime said that speaking against making Russia a parliamentary republic the other day, Medvedev implied what he thought about the premier's hypothetical resignation. "Parliamentary republic is about this: the political party that comes in first in the parliamentary election forms the government and handpicks the prime minister. Medvedev ruled it out," Simonov said. The political scientist added that making statements that collided with the premier's point of view was not like the president.

"Making decisions nobody expects is typical of Putin," political scientist Dmitry Badovsky commented. "No wonder everyone is expecting something extraordinary from the convention."

Source: RBC Daily - November 20, 2008


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