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Russian Presidential Campaign Formally Begins --> All eyes are on Putin as campaigning begins (file photo) (AFP) November 28, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Russia's presidential election campaign formally kicked off today, amid widespread speculation about President Vladimir Putin's intentions.

The Federation Council, the upper house of parliament, passed a resolution on November 26 setting March 2 as the date for the presidential election. The resolution came into force today with its publication in the official government newspaper "Rossiiskaya gazeta."

Federation Council speaker Sergei Mironov had suggested Putin might spend the first day of the campaign in his hometown, St. Petersburg, and that "something" of significance might be announced.

By mid-afternoon, however, Putin was still in Moscow, giving an upbeat but hardly significant appraisal of Russia's political strategy to members of the country's political corps.

"Our political course is defined. It has been defined clearly and remains unchanged," Putin said. "We are following the path of democratic development. And the priorities here remain ensuring and achieving human rights and freedoms, creating conditions for the realization of the potential of each citizen."

According to media reports, Putin has also made a pre-recorded address to the nation that is scheduled to be aired on November 29. There has been widespread speculation that Putin would use that address to resign -- a move that would theoretically allow him to exploit a legal loophole and seek a third consecutive term.

Citing an obscure provision in the election law, Mironov speculated this week that Putin could run in the March 2 election if he resigned as president before the council's resolution is officially published.

But today's publication of the resolution setting the election date appears to have ruled out that possibility.

Putin has repeatedly said he would respect a constitutional ban on serving more than two consecutive terms as president. He has also said, however, that he plans to continue to play a role in Russian politics after his presidency ends.

Putin is heading the candidate list of the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party in parliamentary elections scheduled for December 2, and has said a large majority in those elections would give him a mandate to maintain influence.

Potential presidential candidates have until December 23 to submit their preliminary applications to the Central Election Commission. Candidates must submit all their final applications -- including 2 million signatures for those not nominated by a political party -- by January 16.

Potential candidates include Union of Rightist Forces member Boris Nemtsov, LDPR head Vladimir Zhirinovsky, Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky, Soviet-era dissident Vladimir Bukovsky, former Central Bank head Viktor Gerashchenko, former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, United Civic Front leader Garry Kasparov, and Duma Deputy Nikolai Kuryanovich.

(RFE/RL's Russian Service contributed to this report.)

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