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Russia: Ruling Party Opens Key Conference

Putin used his last Unified Russia address to confirm he'd be sticking around after his presidential term ended (RFE/RL) The powerful, pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party has opened a two-day congress in Moscow that is expected to set the tone for how the country will be governed once Vladimir Putin leaves the presidency.

In addition to discussing the party's economic, political, and social policies, a membership list dominated by top officials and functionaries is expected to ask Putin to take the party reins after his handover to President-elect Dmitry Medvedev on May 7.

Putin has already indicated that he will serve as prime minister to the incoming president.

Boris Gryzlov, who is Unified Russia's current leader and speaker of the State Duma, told a press conference last week that "the very best option" would be Putin accepting an invitation to lead the party.

"Unified Russia, together with Putin, won the State Duma elections; Putin headed the Unified Russia list. Our party's candidate, Dmitry Medvedev, received the support of Russian citizens and was elected president," Gryzlov said. "We always have and will continue to invite both of them to join our party."

Putin is expected to address the conference on its second day.

Putin used Unified Russia's conference in September to announce that he would be willing to serve as prime minister after his second presidential term ended. He is not a member of Unified Russia, but the party is widely viewed as his vehicle -- and he has long been seen as its informal leader.

Back To The Future

Taking over as formal leader of a party that controls two-thirds of the State Duma and most regional legislatures could give Putin another important source of power, and ensure him considerable influence over Russian politics for decades.

Some analysts have speculated that the move would represent a return to Soviet-style governance in which real power resided with the ruling party.

Gryzlov said this week's congress would focus on economic issues, particularly on improving the living standards of ordinary Russians. "We should talk about the creation of a middle class," he said. "It is the middle class that, on the one hand, ensures political stability in any country and, on the other hand, sets living standards."

Russian television reported on April 9 that three "clubs" would be formed within the Unified Russia party structure -- one "liberal," one "conservative," and one "patriotic."

According to Russian media, in addition to plenary sessions, special sections of the conference will discuss topics including "In Search of a Middle Class," "The Law and Corruption," "Technological Leadership," and "Russia's New Elite."

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

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