Putin Tipped to Join Party At United Russia Congress

President Vladimir Putin plans to become the official leader of United Russia and will announce his decision to join the party at its congress next month, sources said, Nezavisimaya Gazeta reported Friday.

Putin would then be elected to replace current party leader Boris Gryzlov, the newspaper said.

A Kremlin spokesman said Friday that he wasn't aware Putin had any plans to join United Russia and said the president was not scheduled to attend the congress.

The United Russia congress will be held April 15-16 at Gostiny Dvor, the same venue for Putin's December announcement that he was willing to serve as prime minister if his protege Dmitry Medvedev became president.

The move to join the party would make sense in relation to comments by Putin last week that "the chairman of the government can and must rely on the majority in the State Duma," adding that it was an effective power structure.

Suitably, a statement on the party's web site said the congress would discuss the party's role in implementation of Putin's Plan for the country through 2020.

In a signal of the control Putin already exerts inside the party, his administration has taken over planning for the event, after rejecting a number of scenarios prepared by the party, the newspaper said.

Theater director Valery Fokin has been enlisted to stage the gala, which will resemble a performance, Nezavisimaya Gazeta said. Fokin, artistic director of the Alexandrinsky Theater and member of the presidential culture and arts council, denied Friday that he was involved.

United Russia spokeswoman Natalia Virtuozova said she didn't know whether Putin and President-Elect Dmitry Medvedev would attend the congress, and denied that the Kremlin was involved in preparations.

Putin led the United Russia party list in December's State Duma elections, but has not become a member, as many in the party had hoped.