Will Putin Go from President to Prime Minister?

United Russia -- United Under Putin?

United Russia is more than likely to win the elections. It now enjoys a popularity rating of 59 percent. Other parties are nowhere near as popular, with the Communist Party at 18 percent and others hardly making the 7 percent threshold to break it into Parliament. Russian political commentator Alexei Pushkov told Russia Today, an English language 24 hour-channel sponsored by the Kremlin, "With Putin heading United Russia I think they may get the constitutional majority, which is over 310 voices. And in this case United Russia becomes a ruling party in the full sense of the word. They can change the constitution and adopt whatever laws."

And this is before Putin comes under the party's wing with his own approval rating of 77 percent. (According to the independent and reliable Levada institute.)

Putin's second condition -- a president he could work with -- is also likely to be met. His two candidates for president are a close friend, ex-minister of defense and KGB colleague Sergei Ivanov, and Dimitry Medvedev, now deputy prime minister and another close associate. With the popularity Putin enjoys among Russians, his recommendation will, in all likelihood, be an indication to the voters as to whom he'd prefer them to support.

President Putin's next words at the congress sounded like campaigning was very much under way. "Our economy has grown by 60 percent over the past seven years. The real income of our citizens more then doubled in that time. We have made the first and most urgent steps in health care and education."

Other words from the floor also sounded like the party's campaign was geared toward Putin. Duma speaker and United Russia leader, Boris Gryzlov, outlined the party's campaign strategy based on its pro-Kremlin platform, unsubtly entitled "Putin's Plan." One of the party's comparably blunt campaign slogans says, "Putin's Plan Is Russia's Triumph!"

Putin has already allowed United Russia to use his image in campaign advertising. Senior party official and campaign chief Andrei Vorobyov told the English-language Moscow Times daily paper that photographs of Putin will figure prominently in the party's campaign.

Where Putin Is, the Power Is

Masha Lipman, a political analyst with the Carnegie Endowment in Moscow, told ABC News, "This has added a significant note and adds clarity to earlier enigmatic statements that Putin made. It is logical that he would take the second most powerful office in the country since he vowed that he would step down [as president]. It makes sense that he would become the authority to make the presidency weaker. Wherever Putin is, he's the center of power."

When on Sept. 12 Putin appointed Viktor Zubkov, an unknown junior minister, as Russia's prime minister observers of the Russian political scene were surprised. This was a move much reminiscent of what Putin's predecessor, President Boris Yeltsin, would do -- appoint disposable unknowns to use them as stepping stones. Today, Putin blatantly clarified that move. Zubkov, a functionary with little power base and recognition can be easily demoted and moved aside giving way to the new prime minister.

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