The Russian President, Dmitry Medvedev, has said he wants to stand for a second term in the Kremlin, but also conceded that he will not run against Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in elections due next March.
Russia's ruling duo are keeping the pundits, and investors, guessing about which one of them will run in the elections, and in keeping with the pair's cryptic statements up to now, Mr Medvedev gave a convoluted response when asked whether he would run. "I think that any leader who occupies such a post as president simply must want to run," Mr Medvedev told the Financial Times in an interview published yesterday. "But another question is whether he is going to decide whether he's going to run for the presidency or not. So his decision is somewhat different from his willingness to run."
Russian analysts and bloggers scrambled to understand what exactly Mr Medvedev meant. The general belief was that his words were mainly meant for the ears of Mr Putin, widely seen as the more powerful of the two. "This was a message to Putin," wrote a commentator in the Russian tabloid Moskovsky Komsomolets. "I've put my cards on the table, now it's your turn."
Mr Medvedev said that running directly against Mr Putin would be "harmful" for the country, as well as meaningless, as the two men represent "to a large extent, one and the same political force". However, although the pair have worked together for two decades, Mr Medvedev is seen as more liberal and Western-leaning than Mr Putin, and most Western politicians hope Mr Medvedev will stand.
Some close to the Kremlin say the two men have not decided yet, while others say Mr Putin wants to come back but is delaying an announcement to avoid Mr Medvedev becoming a lame duck in his last months in office.
One thing is almost certain – whichever one of the two men runs will win the election with ease. Their approval ratings are well above 50 per cent, and there is no real opposition figure who could come even close to challenging the officially approved candidate.
The only presidential election which Mr Medvedev is prepared to speak openly about for now is the next US vote, also due next year. The Russian President endorsed Barack Obama and said he would like to see him re-elected. However, he reiterated policy differences with Washington on the Middle East, criticising the "pointless military operation" in Libya. Mr Medvedev also said he "feels sorry" for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and that Russia would definitely veto any UN resolution that allowed for any military intervention in Syria.