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Putin Opens Door to Becoming Prime Minister

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during a news conference on Friday. He says the idea of him becoming Russia's prime minister is "entirely realistic." Vladimir Rodiono/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

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Vladimir Rodiono/AFP/Getty Images

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Monday he could become the country's prime minister, a sign that he may try to retain power when his term ends next year.

Putin is barred from seeking a third consecutive term in the March presidential election, but on Monday he said he would head the United Russia party's candidate list in December.

Heading the party's list of candidates could open the door for Putin to become prime minister, possibly sharing power with a weakened president.

Putin Says Idea Is Premature

Putin called the idea that he would become prime minister "entirely realistic," but he added that it was still too early to consider it.

The popular president said United Russia would first have to win the Dec. 2 elections and an acceptable candidate would have to be elected as his replacement.

Putin's agreement to top United Russia's candidate list got cheers from the crowd at a congress of the party, which contains many top officials and dominates the parliament and politics nationwide. The move will likely ensure that United Russia retains a two-thirds majority in the State Duma, the lower house of parliament, which is enough to make changes to the constitution.

Leading the party's ticket does not mean Putin will take a seat in parliament. Prominent politicians and other figures often are given the top spots to attract votes, but they stay out of the legislature after the elections. The 450 seats in the Duma is be distributed proportionally among parties that receive at least 7 percent of the votes.

Zubkov Could Cede Power

The popular Putin has repeatedly promised to step down when his term ends in May, which is what the constitution requires. However, he has suggested he would maintain significant influence.

Last month, the public got a hint of what Putin's strategy might be when he named Viktor Zubkov — a previously obscure figure known mainly for his loyalty to Putin — as prime minister.

With no power base of his own, Zubkov would likely take direction from Putin. If Zubkov became president and Putin became prime minister, Zubkov might some cede powers to Putin, or Zubkov could step down and allow Putin to return to the presidency.

If Putin did become prime minister and Zubkov were president, Putin would be first in line to replace Zubkov should he become incapacitated.

Putin has amassed a great deal of authority as president, but as he prepares to step down he has set up a system of check and balances that would weaken his successor against other rival centers of power.

The move means that Putin's successor "will not be a czar," Kremlin-connected analyst Gleb Pavlovsky said on Ekho Moskvy radio. "There will be a new center of influence outside the Kremlin."

From NPR reports and The Associated Press