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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

One Week To Wait For Putin's Anointed

The mystery surrounding whom President Vladimir Putin will back as his preferred successor will end on Dec. 17, a mere 74 days before the presidential election. But until then, the name promises to be kept as a larger-than-life secret.

United Russia plans to announce its presidential candidate during a convention next Monday, and the Kremlin said Putin would give his blessing to whomever the delegates chose.

"I believe that the candidate proposed at the party's convention on Dec. 17 will win in the first round," party leader Boris Gryzlov told reporters Friday.

Gryzlov said United Russia would not necessarily nominate a party member. Putin is not a member of United Russia but has repeatedly promised to step down next year, when his second and constitutionally mandated last consecutive term ends.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Putin would support the candidate nominated at the convention -- meaning that Putin's sky-high popularity would probably rub off on the candidate to ensure an easy election victory on March 2.

"I cannot imagine a situation in which the president would not support the candidate named at the convention," Peskov said. "This is Putin's party. He led it to victory, and his word will be decisive for the party."

He said it would be "senseless" to ask him to reveal the name of the candidate before the convention. He could not say whether Putin would attend the convention.

United Russia called the convention after securing a landslide victory in State Duma elections on Dec. 2. Putin agreed to lead the party's list of candidates in the vote, which he and United Russia turned into a referendum on his record in the Kremlin. Putin last week declined to take a seat in the Duma.

About 40 percent of voters are ready to back any candidate supported by Putin, according to a nationwide survey by the independent Levada Center.

Putin has kept the name of his preferred successor secret, and he has fueled speculation by erratically offering promotions and praise to members of his retinue. Among those at the forefront of the speculation are First Deputy Prime Ministers Sergei Ivanov and Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov.

Gryzlov said Friday that after United Russia had made its nomination, he would start consultations with other political parties and public groups to support the candidate.

A Just Russia, a pro-Kremlin party that won seats in the Duma elections, will back United Russia's candidate if he or she does not belong to any party, its leader, Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mironov, said Friday. He said A Just Russia would not put forward its own candidate.

Each of the four parties that made it into the Duma has the right to nominate a presidential candidate. Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov and Liberal Democratic Party leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky have said they will run from their parties.

The United Russia convention will be held on the evening of Dec. 17 in the Gostiny Dvor shopping center, the same place where the party held its pre-Duma election convention on Oct. 1 and 2, the party's press service said.

Gryzlov said he hoped that Putin would become a member of the party. Putin could assume considerable power if he were to become a member and assume control over the party, which has the two-thirds majority in the Duma needed to make constitutional amendments.

There is no chance that Putin might name a presidential candidate of his own, said Alexei Makarkin, a political analyst with the Center for Political Technologies. "Two candidates -- one from United Russia and another from Putin -- would confuse voters and officials and probably ruin a smooth transfer of power," he said.

Putin's own popularity will be the biggest campaign asset for United Russia's candidate, just as it was for United Russia in the Duma race, said Alexei Mukhin, an analyst with the Center for Political Information.

Also Friday, United Russia's leadership council nominated Gryzlov to lead the party's faction in the next Duma and hold the speaker's post. Gryzlov occupies both positions in the outgoing Duma.