MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin could return to the presidency next year, a Russian newspaper reported on Thursday citing a source close to the Kremlin, but Putin’s spokesman said the report was untrue.
A proposal on Wednesday by Putin’s protege President Dmitry Medvedev to extend the presidential term from four to six years has re-ignited speculation that Putin, who stepped down this year because of a term limit, could be preparing a comeback.
Vedomosti newspaper reported that the proposed term extension was part of a plan drawn up by Vladislav Surkov, Medvedev’s first deputy chief of staff, to trigger an early presidential election in which Putin would run.
“Under this scenario Medvedev could resign early citing changes to the constitution and then presidential elections could take place in 2009,” the newspaper said, citing the unidentified source close to the Kremlin.
In the interim, Medvedev would push through unpopular social reforms and implement the changes to the constitution to extend the presidential term “so that Putin could return to the Kremlin for a longer period,” the newspaper said.
The paper said Putin could then serve as president for two six-year terms, from 2009 to 2021.
“These are purely the ponderings of the newspaper and the report is absolutely without foundation,” Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said by telephone when asked for comment on the report.
“The president of the Russian Federation is Dmitry Medvedev, who was elected for a concrete period in office,” Peskov said.
Putin is Russia’s most popular politician, opinion polls show, but stepped down because of a constitutional ban on a president serving more than two consecutive terms. There is no restriction on him running again after a period out of office.
The next scheduled presidential election is in 2012. Some analysts say a change to the constitution could be used as grounds to justify calling an early election.
Investors, jittery over the impact of the financial crisis on Russia’s economic boom, want to know who is running Russia.
Medvedev proposed extending the presidential term in a state of the nation address on Wednesday. He said four years was not enough for the incumbent to tackle challenges including military reform and creating a stable democracy.
A Kremlin official later said the proposed change would not apply to the term Medvedev is now serving. During Medvedev’s speech on Wednesday the Russian stock market erased most of the gains it made earlier in the day.
Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge, Editing by Janet Lawrence