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Putin rules out 2008 run, may run in 2012
Updated: 2005-04-13 09:26

Russian President Vladimir Putin again ruled out running for re-election in 2008 but left the door open to seeking a third term four years later, fueling fresh speculation that the Russian leader could try to hang on to power.

Putin told a group of media executives in Hanover, Germany, on Monday that he would not seek to change the constitution to lift the ban on a third consecutive term, according to remarks released Tuesday by the Kremlin.

"I will not change the constitution and in line with the constitution, you cannot run for president three times in a row," he said.

Putin pointed out that he would not be barred from seeking a third term later. "True, I am not certain that I want to," he added.

Political analysts said they suspect Putin's allies are seeking ways to keep control of the country after his term ends in 2008.

One option floated in political circles was to change the constitution to make the presidency ceremonial, turning Russia into a parliamentary republic in which Putin, as prime minister, would continue to hold power.

But Olga Kryshtanovskaya, a political observer who specializes in the Russian elite, speculated that the Kremlin might try to leave Putin at the helm as prime minister without amending the constitution.

"The clan in power under Putin has to complete the redistribution of assets and safeguard their gains," Kryshtanovskaya said. She said a new class of wealthy functionaries has arisen in the past few years as the state role in the economy has grown, with the dismemberment and partial renationalization of the Yukos oil giant profiting Kremlin insiders.

Irina Khakamada, a liberal politician who ran against Putin in 2004, said Russia's political elite is growing increasingly concerned as 2008 looms closer and the fragmented opposition steps up its efforts to mount a credible challenge.

"The people in the Kremlin are looking at several options to allow them to hang onto power and assets they have acquired through various means," Khakamada said in a statement posted on her Web site.

Putin might try to secure the presidency for a trusted aide and keep his political capital by becoming prime minister for four years, she said. "This way he could maintain his popularity ratings and after a break would return to power."

Andrei Piontkovsky, a political analyst and Kremlin critic, said Putin's main concern was to ensure his successor was a pliable figure who would not harm his interests. "He is ready to leave his post but he wants guarantees of immunity," Piontkovsky said.

Putin, 52, a former colonel in the KGB who later headed its main post-Soviet successor agency, came to power when Russia's first president, Boris Yeltsin, stepped down on Dec. 31, 1999. He was elected to his first term in March 2000.

Re-elected by a landslide last year, his popularity appears to have started to wane after mass protests over welfare cuts. Critics point to a slowdown in economic growth despite record oil prices as evidence of the damage to business confidence and foreign investor sentiment under Putin.

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