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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Putin backs First Deputy PM Medvedev for president

RIA Novosti

10/12/2007 17:03 (Recasts, adds details throughout, Putin quote, analysts' comments)

MOSCOW, December 10 (RIA Novosti) - First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev's candidature for Russian president was backed by Vladimir Putin on Monday.

Following months of speculation over who could assume the presidency next year, Putin said on national television: "I have known Dmitry Medvedev well for over 17 years, and I completely and fully support his candidature."

State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov, who also heads the ruling United Russia party, said four pro-Kremlin parties had put forward Medvedev's nomination.

"We would like to nominate the candidate that we all support. This is First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev," Gryzlov told a meeting between the president and the leaders of United Russia, A Just Russia, the Agrarian Party and Civil Force.

Medvedev, 42, chairs the board of Russia's state-controlled natural gas monopoly Gazprom and is overseeing an ambitious multi-billion-dollar "national project" to improve living standards in the country. In view of Putin's high popularity rating and full support of most of the legislature, his backing of the nomination is likely to guarantee Medvedev the presidency.

Putin, who is forbidden from seeking a third consecutive term as president next year, said the backing of four parties for a single candidate at the March 2 election meant there was a realistic chance of building a stable government in Russia.

Medvedev will be formally nominated as presidential candidate at a United Russia congress on December 17, Gryzlov said.

Medvedev, a trained lawyer, worked under Putin in the early 1990s in the mayor's office of St. Petersburg, the president's home town. He is widely seen as a pro-business moderate, in contrast to another first deputy premier who had been widely tipped for the presidency, ex-defense minister Sergei Ivanov, 54. Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov, 66, was also seen as a possible contender.

"This is positive news for the market as the most liberal of the three possible presidential candidates was approved," Yaroslav Lisovolik, a senior Deutsche Bank economics analyst, said. "The liberal aspect of Putin's economic policy can be preserved if Medvedev becomes president."

He also said that under Medvedev Russia would pursue a policy of integration into the global economy.

Echoing the statement, an economist at Russian brokerage Troika Dialog said the news would encourage investment in the country. Anton Struchevsky said Medvedev was seen as a liberal, unlike Ivanov, an ex-KGB 'silovik' treated with apprehension by Western countries.

However an analyst with Trust investment bank, Yevgeny Nadorshin, said Medvedev's appointment would not influence the investment climate in Russia, and that there was in fact little difference between the candidates.

Russia's stock market welcomed the news. The Russian Trading System (RTS) index rallied 1.14% to a new high of 2311.81 as of 2:30 p.m. Moscow time. The Moscow Interbank Currency Exchange (MICEX) gained 1.19% to 1936.14.

Medvedev moved to Moscow in 1999, when he was appointed acting deputy chief of President Putin's staff. He also headed the president's campaign headquarters in the run-up to the 2000 election. In 2003, he became chief of the presidential administration and retained the post until November 2005, when he was appointed first deputy prime minister.

Putin, while saying he will not violate the Constitution and remain in the Kremlin for a third term, has pledged to retain influence in Russian politics. Various theories have been circulated in domestic and international media as to what position the popular president could opt for after the polls next year.

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