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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

Now to Russia. Yesterday we heard that President Vladimir Putin has endorsed a successor. Today that man unveiled his choice for prime minister, and it's Vladimir Putin. That would a give Putin a way to hold onto power after he leaves the presidency next year. It's not clear though if he's interested in the new job.

NPR's Gregory Feifer reports from Moscow.

GREGORY FEIFER: It would seem the pieces of Russia's political puzzle are coming together. Yesterday, Putin ended years of speculation by endorsing Dmitry Medvedev, a loyal top Cabinet official, as his favorite candidate for the presidency. Today, Medvedev appeared on television sounding severe, much like Putin himself. He said he'd appoint Putin prime minister after he steps down from the presidency.

Mr. DMITRY MEDVEDEV (First Deputy Prime Minister, Russia): (Russian spoken)

FEINSTEIN: Vladimir Putin's policies saved Russia from civil war and made the country respected in the world, Medvedev said. To stay on Putin's course is not enough to elect a new president who shares his ideology. It's no less important to keep Putin in a top executive post in government.

Putin has yet to say whether he'd accept the offer, but last October he said he'd consider becoming prime minister if his United Russia Party were to win a majority in elections that took place a week ago. The party won a landslide in voting independent observers said was rigged. Putin has said United Russia's victory would give him the moral right to continue influencing Russian politics.

President VLADIMIR PUTIN (Russia): (Russian spoken)

FEIFER: Victory comes not to the strong but to those who speak the truth, Putin said. A United Russia victory, he went on, would signify the public trusts him.

Putin's sky-high popularity and tight grip on power means his endorsement of Medvedev virtually assures he'll win the election next March. Analyst Olga Kryshtanovskaya says Medvedev has a reputation as a weak, dependent figure. She predicts that means Putin, who's barred from running for a third consecutive term, will try to hold on to power by controlling Medvedev.

Ms. OLGA KRYSHTANOVSKAYA (Political Analyst): (Through translator) There may be a period of uncertainty, but Medvedev won't have time to consolidate power. He'll soon step down, there will be early elections, and Putin will be able to return as president for another two terms.

FEIFER: Others are less certain. The prime minister currently plays a humble role, fully subservient to the president. Political expert Yuri Korgunyuk says it's far too early to say what Putin will do.

Mr. YURI KORGUNYUK (Political Analyst): (Through translator) However loyal Medvedev may now be, once president everything would change because he'd have a tremendous amount of power in his hands. If Putin becomes prime minister, there will be two centers of power and probably a serious battle for control.

FEIFER: The president can fire the prime minister, and Korgunyuk says Medvedev as president, would win any conflict with the far weaker Prime Minister Putin. One way around that would be to boost the prime minister's power by changing the constitution, something the United Russia Party's majority would enable it to do.

Whatever Putin's plans, analysts agree by linking himself even more firmly to the wildly popular president, Medvedev will increase his own popularity, even as Putin keeps his future options open.

Gregory Feifer, NPR News, Moscow.

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