United Russia Will Tap Putin

United Russia will invite President Vladimir Putin to become its leader, party chief and State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov said Monday.

Putin has said he will become prime minister after President-elect Dmitry Medvedev is sworn in on May 7, but leading United Russia would effectively give him control of the Duma, where the party has a constitutional majority.

"If Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin headed United Russia, it would be the very best option," Gryzlov told a news conference.

He said both Putin and Medvedev were expected to attend United Russia's congress, which opens in Moscow on April 14. A proposal to have Putin head the party will "probably be made at the congress," Gryzlov said. "I could make the proposal myself, and that would be the right way."

A Kremlin spokesman declined to comment when asked Monday whether Putin would lead United Russia.

The Duma will convene the day after Medvedev's inauguration to vote on Putin's candidacy for the prime minister post, Gryzlov said.

Control over the majority in the Duma would further entrench Putin's position. The president has the power to sack the prime minister, but he has to seek the Duma's approval to appoint a replacement. Putin was instrumental in founding the party in 2003. He used a United Russia conference last year to announce that he would lead the party's ticket in the Dec. 2 Duma elections.