But yesterday, when asked by reporters whether he intends to run for president, Kasyanov did not mince his words: "Today's answer is yes. If three months ago I was heavily hesitating, today I see the situation is not changing toward
the direction that I wanted and that is why I can't go into the shadows because there is nobody to help develop the political
process that, from my point of view, would lead to the positive results on which millions of Russians could count."
Kasyanov served as prime minister for most of Putin's first term. The president sacked him and the rest of his government
in February last year, weeks before his reelection. Putin said the move was aimed at creating a more efficient government.
Since then, relations between the two men have gradually soured, with Kasyanov repeatedly slamming the Kremlin for
adopting what he calls flawed policies and accusing it of cracking down on Russia's newly-earned freedoms.
Yesterday, Kasyanov one again made it clear he now belonged with the opposition: "I want to clarify that I consider the political direction taken by the leadership of this country to be wrong. That is why, from this point of view, yes, I am a political opponent. I believe that a different course should be taken."
Kasyanov's pledge to unite Russia's splintered and demoralized opposition by next year has further angered Putin and his
His statement comes amid a corruption scandal in which prosecutors accuse him of acquiring a luxurious estate outside
Moscow through fraudulent transactions while still in office.
He has denied the accusations and accused the Kremlin of mounting a smear campaign.
Vladimir Pribylovskii, a political analyst, heads Moscow's Panorama think tank. He says Kasyanov's corruption-tainted
reputation, reinforced by the recent scandal, will prevent him from ever becoming president: "Kasyanov has no chance of becoming president in any election. His ratings, his popularity, are minimal. In the eyes of the population, Kasyanov is a symbol of corruption, and no opposition forces can seriously support him."
But Yevgenii Volk, director of Moscow's Heritage Foundation Policy Institute, said it is still too early to speculate on
Kasyanov's chances in the 2008 elections.
Like Volk, he doubts that Kasyanov, a career bureaucrat who has largely steered clear of democratic movements, has the power to unite the divided opposition.
But he says Kasyanov's candidacy could certainly create hurdles for the Kremlin: "His decision to run for president in 2008 is a serious challenge to the Kremlin and, of course, an open display of opposition by Kasyanov. This brings a serious element of competition into the upcoming 2008 elections."
The constitution bars Putin from running for president in 2008. But observers predict he will back a Kremlin-anointed successor or even amend the constitution to remain in power.