Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Putin Will Run on United Russia Ticket

MTVladimir Putin addressing United Russia delegates at the Gostiny Dvor shopping center Monday as Boris Gryzlov, left, Sergei Shoigu and Yury Luzhkov listen.
President Vladimir Putin on Monday agreed to run for the State Duma as United Russia's top candidate and indicated that he might become prime minister once he leaves office next year.

Putin's surprise announcement means that other parties, including A Just Russia, face the very real prospect of being edged out of the next Duma, lawmakers and analysts said.

The remarks also provided the clearest signal yet of what Putin plans to do once his second term ends.

Putin agreed to top United Russia's federal list at the party's pre-election convention in the Gostiny Dvor shopping center, just across from Red Square and the Kremlin.

"I gratefully accept your offer," he told the 500 delegates to thunderous applause and a standing ovation.

Asked by a delegate to govern the country as prime minister in 2008, Putin said it was a "realistic idea" under two conditions: an overwhelming victory by United Russia in the Dec. 2 elections and the selection of a "worthy candidate for the presidency" with whom he could cooperate.

In his 20-minute introductory speech, Putin threw his support behind the pro-Kremlin party, praising its work and stressing that he had helped created it six years ago. "I not only supported the creation of the party in 2001, I was among its initiators," he said.

He called the party "a uniting force" that "provided political stability and implemented all our programs."

Putin, however, made it clear that he would not become a member of United Russia. "Like the overwhelming majority of my countrymen, I am not a member of any party, and I do not wish to change this," he said.

After Putin's first speech, Yelena Lapshina, a delegate from the Ivanovo region, demanded that the Constitution be amended to allow Putin to run for a third term. Mikhail Terentyev, head of the country's Paralympic Games organization, called on Putin to stay in power in any capacity. Sergei Borisov, head of the Opora small business lobby association, suggested that Putin co-lead United Russia with Boris Gryzlov, the Duma speaker.

Vladimir Filonov / MT
Gryzlov addressing delegates at the Gostiny Dvor shopping center Monday.
Then Gennady Kotelnikov, head of the State Medical University, asked Putin to join United Russia's federal ticket and later become prime minister, eliciting the surprise announcement when the president came down from the rostrum to deliver a short, second speech.

Maya Grishina, a member of the Central Elections Commission, confirmed that Putin had the right to run for the Duma. "There are no procedural problems with this in my view," she said, Interfax reported.

By law, Putin is allowed to run for the parliament, but he will have to decline the Duma seat or step down as president after the elections, explained Vladimir Pribylovsky, who tracks Kremlin politics at the Panorama think tank. The same law applies to governors who run for the Duma. Governors led United Russia's list in the 2003 Duma elections, but none took Duma seats.

Putin's approval rating is above 75 percent, meaning his association with United Russia would almost guarantee that the party would retain its two-thirds majority in the Duma -- and likely collect additional seats. Recent polls have indicated that United Russia was on course to secure 50 percent of the vote.

"Putin created the party, Putin supported us from congress to congress, and this is the culmination," senior party official Vladimir Pekhtin said at the convention. "We must win the elections with a big lead over the others."

United Russia is a Kremlin brainchild broadly viewed as a party of bureaucrats lacking any outspoken ideology other than following Putin's lead. The party's campaign strategy, presented at the convention by Gryzlov, is called "Putin's Plan."

To allow Putin to run on the United Russia ticket, the delegates voted unanimously and without any discussion to amend the party's charter to allow a nonparty member to be on its list. Delegates postponed a vote until Tuesday on who else would be on the federal list as well as its regional lists. Gryzlov and Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu are expected to follow Putin's name on the federal list.

When Gryzlov offered the text of Putin's speech as the party's program, delegates agreed with a unanimous vote.

Delegates also voted to expel several members from the party hierarchy, including former Adygeya President Khazret Sovmen and former Novgorod Governor Mikhail Prusak, who quit his job in August after a presidential envoy accused him for turning a blind eye to corruption.

Murat Zyazikov, the president of Ingushetia, which has faced a surge in violence in recent months, was voted in as a member of the party's general council.

Opposition Duma deputies warned that Putin's decision could leave the country with a one-party system.

Deputy Dmitry Rogozin, a former Rodina leader, said the decision spelled the demise of A Just Russia, a pro-Kremlin party that was gunning for second place in the elections.

At the United Russia convention, Kaliningrad Governor Georgy Boos played down such fears, noting that the law requires at least two parties in the Duma. "I am not afraid of that because there is a law stipulating that no fewer than two parties can be in the parliament. Also, each party has core voters who will vote for them in any case," he said.

Communist Deputy Viktor Ilyukhin complained that United Russia was using unfair tactics and warned of the erosion of democratic principles.

"By leading the United Russia ticket, Putin is holding up United Russia's pants, which are falling down," he said.

He speculated that Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov would become a figurehead president, while Putin, as prime minister, would held the reins. "Putin will put himself at the helm of the government so he can concentrate even more power in his hands," he said.

Putin's participation with United Russia is bad news for the other political parties, said Alexei Mukhin, analyst with the Center for Political Information.

"It doesn't make sense for them to take part in the election campaign anymore, because United Russia has practically monopolized the political scene," he said.

Mukhin predicted United Russia would get 70 to 75 percent.

Yury Korgunyuk, an analyst with the Indem think tank, said Putin was not planning to rest and that he could not leave office like his predecessor, Boris Yeltsin. "First, he is too young and, second, he would be destroyed by his successor," he said.

Staff Writer Alexander Osipovich contributed to this report.