Russian presidency will likely be Putin’s if he wants it back 

President Barack Obama got an unlikely endorsement for re-election — from the president of Russia.

“I can tell you openly — I would like Barack Obama to be re-elected president of the United States,” said Dmitry Medvedev, who credits Obama with improving U.S.-Russian relations.

What Medvedev didn’t get around to saying is whom he is endorsing for president of Russia in next year’s election. In an interview with the Financial Times, Medvedev indicated he would like a second term and even has a liberalizing agenda should that happen.

The decision is not his, however. It depends on Vladimir Putin, the prime minister and former president who, to a certain amount of pleased surprise, observed the Russian constitution’s prohibition against serving three consecutive terms as president.

It is widely believed that Putin plans on returning to the top office — there is no meaningful opposition to his doing so. If he does, Medvedev says he won’t run against him because it would be bad for the country and, besides, he and “my colleague and old friend” Putin represent “one and the same political force.”

There have been disagreements between the two leaders, some of them surely genuine, but some of them likely manufactured to make Medvedev appear more as his own man and less of a lackey.

Before becoming prime minister, Putin centralized political and financial control in the Kremlin and flirted with the trappings of Stalin. The Kremlin recently approved an order by its security service for long, black leather trench coats — the signature garment of the late tyrant’s feared secret police.

Putin hasn’t said yet if he’ll run. If he does run, the question becomes whether Medvedev will swap jobs with Putin and become prime minister, an office where he was once deputy.

As president, Medvedev has talked a good game: the importance of viable political, competitive political parties; making the governorships of Russia’s 89 regions once again elected, not Kremlin-appointed, posts, thus reversing a Putin initiative; encouraging and protecting foreign investors; an end to “authoritarian capitalism”; and reining in the country’s endemic corruption.

It would be good to see Medvedev have an opportunity to do more than talk about these reforms, but that choice seems to be out of his hands.

Dale McFeatters is an editorial writer and columnist for the Scripps Howard News Service.

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