Putin's nominee may seek his job

The Baltimore Sun

MOSCOW -- President Vladimir V. Putin's little-known choice to be prime minister suggested yesterday that he might consider running for president next year, stoking speculation about whether he intends to be more than simply a caretaker.

"If I succeed in doing something in the post of premier, if I manage to do something, then I do not exclude this alternative, maybe, as well," said the nominee, Viktor A. Zubkov, responding to questions from reporters about his presidential ambitions during an appearance at the parliament in Moscow.

It was not clear whether Zubkov's statement about the presidency was planned or whether it was merely an off-the-cuff remark from an official unused to the spotlight. Before his nomination, Zubkov was the chief of a low-profile federal financial crimes agency and had attracted little if any attention in political circles.

That changed Wednesday, when Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov announced his resignation and Putin immediately put forth Zubkov. The two have long-standing ties that date to their days in the city government in St. Petersburg in the early 1990s.

Putin has repeatedly promised that he will step down next year after eight years in office, abiding by the constitutional limit of two consecutive terms. Whoever he endorses for president is all but assured to win the elections in March, political experts here say, but Putin has kept his decision to himself, if he has in fact made one.

On a trip outside of Moscow yesterday, Putin gave no indication that Zubkov was his choice for president, declaring only that the nomination of a new prime minister was intended to ensure stability in advance of parliamentary elections in December and the presidential election.

"I expect all these changes will lead to the system of government in Russia functioning without hitches," Putin said on Russian television.

Parliament, which is tightly controlled by Putin's party, United Russia, is expected to approve the choice of Zubkov today.

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