Moscow - Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday expressed support for First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev as his successor - a move likely to ensure Medvedev's election.
Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) and First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev are seen in Moscow in October 2007. [Agencies]
There have been months of intense speculation on whom Putin saw as his likely successor in the March 2 voting, along with the wider question of what Putin himself will do once he steps down.
Putin's popularity is so strong that most observers expect that whomever he supports would be a shoo-in.
He made the statement in a meeting with representatives of the United Russia party, which dominates parliament, and of three other parties. The parties told Putin they all supported Medvedev.
"I completely and fully support this proposal," Putin said, according to footage shown on state television.
Putin had long been seen as trying to choose between Medvedev, a 42-year-old business-oriented lawyer and board chairman of state natural gas giant Gazprom, and Sergei Ivanov, another first deputy premier.
"Medvedev is not an extremist. He is not known for any kind of harsh views on politics, and apparently Medvedev better suits Putin's view of how to achieve continuity," said Lilia Shevtsova, an analyst at the Carnegie Moscow Center.
Although Putin is banned by the constitution from seeking a third consecutive term in office, he has indicated a strong desire to remain a significant power figure. He has raised the prospect of becoming prime minister, and his supporters have called for him to become a "national leader" with unspecified authority.