MOSCOW -- Russia's biggest party will invite Vladimir Putin to become its leader, the party's chief said on Monday, a role that would further bolster Putin's influence after he steps down from the presidency next month.
Putin has said he will become prime minister after his successor, Dmitry Medvedev, is sworn in on May 7 but leadership of the pro-Kremlin United Russia party would effectively give him control of parliament, where the party has a large majority.
Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during a news conference at the NATO summit in Bucharest April 4, 2008. Putin could become leader of Russia's biggest party this month, bolstering his influence once he leaves the presidency, the head of the upper house of parliament was quoted as saying on Monday. [Agencies]
"If Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin headed United Russia, it would be the very best option," Boris Gryzlov, the head of United Russia and the speaker of the lower house of parliament, told a news conference.
He said both Putin and Medvedev were expected to attend United Russia's congress, which opens in Moscow on April 14.
"Such a proposal (for Putin to head the party) will probably be made at the congress. I could myself make the proposal and that would be the correct way," said Gryzlov.
The Kremlin has not given any indication of whether Putin would accept the invitation to head the party. A Kremlin spokesman declined to comment when asked on Monday if Putin would become United Russia leader.
Putin, a 55-year-old former KGB spy, is stepping down in line with a constitutional term limit. He endorsed Medvedev as his replacement, helping the 42-year-old former lawyer to an easy victory in last month's presidential election.
Some analysts say Putin, and not Medvedev, will hold the real power after the change-over.
Christopher Granville, managing director of Trusted Sources, a London-based investment research service, said the Putin premiership was an interim arrangement and that in the longer term he would exercise influence as party chief.
"It has always been the most obvious thing for him to do in order for him to remain the supreme arbiter of policy and of the country's development and modernisation," said Granville. "This is the ultimate destination."
"The plan for the premiership is to help the Medvedev administration get off to a good start ... and once the fledgling can fly with its own wings properly that is the moment when Putin will probably step back and continue as leader of the party," Granville said.
Control over the majority in the State Duma, or lower house of parliament, would further entrench Putin's position. The president has the power to sack the prime minister but he has to seek parliament's approval to appoint a new premier.
United Russia has the two thirds majority required to amend the country's constitution. This gives it the potential to change the powers, or the term, of the president.
"It is fully possible that Putin could become party leader but he is the one who will decide and United Russia will accept any decision he makes," said Alexei Makarkin, vice president of the Centre for Political Technologies in Moscow.
"The prime minister is in need of more political resources... United Russia controls parliament and United Russia unites the main regional elites," Makarkin said.
The State Duma will convene the day after Medvedev's inauguration to vote on Putin's candidacy for the premiership, Gryzlov said. Lawmakers are expected to confirm him in the post by a wide margin.
The outgoing Russian leader was instrumental in founding United Russia party and headed its election slate in a parliamentary election last year.
Even without heading the party, Putin is set to become the most powerful Russian prime minister since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.