Those, of course, are the dates when United Russia is scheduled to hold its national congress, the last one before the election season begins. But what has the Moscow punditocracy all wound up is the announcement yesterday by President Dmitry Medvedev that he will attend -- and will address the congress.
And almost everybody is expecting him to announce, well, you know what. Here's political analyst Mikhail Zakharov of Polit.ru:
Likewise, "Kommersant" cited unidentified United Russia officials as saying that Medvedev "will announce his political future" when he speaks on the second day of the congress, September 24. The daily also cited an unidentified Kremlin official as saying that if Medvedev is the announced presidential candidate for the March ballot, it could add 10 percent to United Russia's vote total in the December 4 State Duma elections.
Uber-pundit Gleb Pavlovsky, head of the Effective Politics Foundation, notes that the clock is ticking and the United Russia congress is the logical time and place for a decision to finally be reached:
This, of course, is debatable. It wasn't until December 17, 2007 when Medvedev's candidacy for the March 2008 presidential election was made public.
Prior to Medvedev's announcement, many Kremlin-watchers were focusing their attention on the World Policy Forum in Yaroslavl next week, on September 7-8, as a venue for Medvedev's announcement.
The expectations for an announcement on September 23-24 are not universal. "Kommersant" cited one unidentified Kremlin official as saying that it could wait until the end of the year, just like in 2007. "It is in the interests of both members of a tandem to keep up the suspense as long as possible," the official said.
Another unidentified source told the daily that "the announcement [of who will run] is news itself. It does not need to fasten itself to any occasion. In general, our tradition is to continue the political intrigue until the end. In the case of the presidential election, I think, [this could continue] until December."
So there you have it. September 23-24 may be when the question that has been obsessing Russia's political class may -- or may not -- finally be answered.
And while I have long thought that Plan A was for Medvedev to remain in the Kremlin for a second term with Putin remaining in charge, I have also maintained that the more interesting -- and consequential -- question is not who will be president after 2012 but what direction will the elite take the country.
Mikhail Zakharov at Polit.ru asks the same question about a Medvedev announcement later this month: "This will calm the elite, but it does not answer the question - Does the tandem to carry out reforms?"
-- Brian Whitmore