Dmitry Medvedev is an also-ran at the launch of his re-election bid

 

Moscow

The stage was set for Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev to fire the starting gun on a bid for a second term yesterday, but a press conference attended by more than 800 journalists was more of a damp squib than a campaign launch.

Mr Medvedev was once again upstaged by the powerful Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who released a wide-ranging interview about his masculine image to the American magazine Outdoor Life on the same day.

An announcement on whether Mr Medvedev will stay on for a second term, or the tough-talking Mr Putin will make a return to Russia's biggest job has not yet been taken. A third, less likely option, is that the two men could run against each othe, in elections that are scheduled for next March.

The Russian President gave a meandering and confused answer to the question of whether he would stand for a second term yesterday.

"We are involved in political work not for the sake of keeping warm and cosy, but in order to achieve results," he said. "Decisions of the kind you are talking about therefore must be made at the right moment, at the moment when all the right conditions are in place... If I make such a decision, I will certainly announce it."

The lack of electioneering led many to wonder why Mr Medvedev had decided to resurrect the tradition of set-piece press conferences, which happened annually under his predecessor Mr Putin, but have not featured since he entered the Kremlin three years ago.

Mr Medvedev never seemed to revel in the format quite as much as Mr Putin, and made several, unsolicited references to his "successor" and to what he would do with his life when he leaves the political arena.

But at the same time, he refused to rule out running, and the event was perhaps designed to show that he was a leader no less capable of facing the media spotlight than his predecessor, and in its own way a subtle form of electioneering.

The President emphasised several times that he and Mr Putin had similar political outlooks and worked as a team. He said, however, that Mr Putin believed the modernisation of Russia was a gradual process, while he thought it could happen more quickly.

Mr Medvedev touched on domestic and foreign policy, as well as local issues.

He accused Nato of "manipulating" UN resolutions on Libya, and said he would not support any similar resolution aimed at Syria.

He also warned of "a very bad scenario that would throw us back to the Cold War", if the US proceeded in its plans for a missile defence system without Russian support.

Mr Putin, meanwhile, was back in the limelight, as his interview with Outdoor Life was published.

In an often semi-coherent exchange, the interviewer congratulated Mr Putin for his popularity among Americans and suggested US presidents would be too scared to be pictured hunting or bare-chest horse riding, because of a surfeit of political correctness.

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