Operation Successor postponed


MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Andrei Kolesnikov) -President
Vladimir Putin has left the audience intrigued once again. He is not ready
to name his successor yet, he said, and believes that Russian people have to
"determine who is the strongest candidate."

At the same time, he did promise to name someone. "Of course, as any Russian
citizen, I reserve the right of choice at a vote and I do not believe that I
should give up my right to express my opinion in mass media," he said. "I
will talk about it when the time is right."

It is not too easy to decipher the undecipherable. What did the Russian
leader mean?

First of all, he made it clear that he had not handpicked his successor yet.
Given the nature of the Russian public opinion today, many people will vote
for the politician named by the president, who enjoys great popularity with
voters. The latest poll by the Levada Center, a Moscow-based pollster,
showed that 48% are ready to follow the president, and 45% of them are
certain that Putin will name his successor on his own. There is still time.
The country has begun to prepare for the parliamentary elections in the
autumn 2007, and there is still plenty of time before the start of the
presidential campaign. A potential successor, who has to hold a high
position, or he will not be noticed by electronic media and, consequently,
the voters, needs delicate handling: his charisma can burn out too early in
a job that bears a great deal of responsibility and can lead to failures and
mistakes. It seems, therefore, that he has a new appointment in store for

Secondly, the president hinted that he was willing to consider public
opinion when making his choice. Most probably, this is what he meant by
saying that voters have to decide on "the strongest candidate." Despite the
wide choice ranging from speakers of the parliament's two chambers, Boris
Gryzlov and Sergei Mironov, who represent two different pro-Kremlin parties
United Russia and Fair Russia (RPZ), to Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, the
only official who leads in approval ratings is Dmitry Medvedev, first deputy
prime minister in charge of national projects.

If Putin is excluded from the list of presidential candidates, 11% of
Russians are ready to vote for Medvedev, according to Levada's poll. He is
1% point ahead of Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov and 2 points ahead of
Vladimir Zhirinovsky, leader of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia.
Defense Minister Ivanov, who is seen as the main rival of "civilian" and
"liberal" Medvedev, is supported by 8%.

Although Medvedev is becoming an absolute leader, everyone remembers Putin's
unexpected moves in appointing officials: in 2004, for example, he nominated
Mikhail Fradkov, who was little known at the time, as the prime minister. So
the intrigue in the exciting Russian political game is likely to continue