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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Putin Seeks to Narrow Presidential Race

Itar-TassThe president greeting the new defense minister, Anatoly Serdyukov, right, on Saturday. Ivanov is between them.
By promoting Sergei Ivanov to the post of first deputy prime minister, President Vladimir Putin seeks to narrow the gap in the race between the two major candidates to succeed him, political analysts said.

In recent months, Ivanov's chief rival -- First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, who oversees social programs -- has risen in national prominence, prompting speculation he would be the next president.

But it is not in Putin's interest that either Medvedev or Ivanov emerges as his inevitable successor before he leaves office, pundits concurred.

"Putin does not want to turn into a lame duck in the last year of his presidency, watching bureaucrats lining up to give loyalty oaths to his successor," said Igor Bunin of the Center for Political Technologies. "Putin wants to remain the only arbiter in the Kremlin's power struggle until the last day of his presidency, and even beyond."

Political analysts added that the critical turning point -- when Putin decided he had to give Ivanov a boost -- came in Davis last month.

Medvedev led the Russian delegation at the World Economic Forum in Davos, where he spoke on economic and foreign policy.

Also in January, a poll released by the independent Levada Center showed Medvedev gaining ground over Ivanov.

According to the poll, 17 percent of Russians support Medvedev for president compared with 11 percent for Ivanov.

"By elevating Ivanov, Putin shuffled the cards and launched a new round of the whole bureaucratic game," said Yury Korgunyuk of the Indem think tank. "He also reminded everyone who is the boss."

During a recent Kremlin press conference, Putin maintained that "there will be no successors -- there will be candidates."

Leveling the playing field between Medvedev and Ivanov also makes it possible for Putin to prop up a third, lesser-known candidate for the post, the Panorama think tank's Vladimir Pribylovsky and the Levada Center's Leonid Sedov agreed.

"My advice is to start watching Sergei Naryshkin more closely," said Olga Kryshtanovskaya of the Center for the Study of Elites at the Russian Academy of Sciences.

Naryshkin, the Cabinet's chief of staff, is believed to be a close confidant of Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov. Naryshkin was elevated Thursday by Putin to the rank of deputy prime minister.