Dmitry Medvedev, named by Russian President Vladimir Putin as his preferred successor, said yesterday he wanted Putin to become prime minister under him, mapping out a route for the outgoing leader to retain influence.
But Putin did not say if he would take his long-time ally up on the job offer and some analysts said they believed the powerful Russian leader had still not finally decided what role he will take when he steps down next year.
Medvedev is front-runner to win a March 2 presidential election after Putin endorsed him for the top Kremlin job on Monday. In his first public broadcast since then, the 42-year-old was quick to declare his loyalty to his mentor.
"Expressing my readiness to stand as a candidate in the presidential election, I ask him (Putin) to agree to head the government of Russia after the election of the new president," Medvedev said in a brief televised address carried on all Russia's state-run channels.
Putin's endorsement of Medvedev, a first deputy prime minister and chairman of powerful state-owned gas company Gazprom, makes him almost certain to become president.
Medvedev is one of Putin's most loyal lieutenants who has no political powerbase of his own. Choosing him as the Kremlin's candidate seemed calculated to allow Putin to continue to mould policy after he steps down.
In a country where most power is concentrated in the presidency, with the prime minister taking a junior role, some commentators say that dividing power between the two posts could create a risk of conflicts and instability.
Soon after Medvedev spoke, Putin gave a speech to a business lobby group but made no mention of the job offer.
"I think at the moment it (Medvedev's offer) would be seen as an honest decision by a future presidential candidate who told people who he wants to work with," said a Kremlin source.
Analysts said the invitation to Putin to head the government could be just a ploy to help Medvedev stave off challenges from rival Kremlin clans and win the election by associating himself closely with the outgoing president.
"It seems to me that Putin still hasn't decided on his next job," said Yevgeny Minchenko, director of the International Institute of Political Analysis in Moscow.
"Plan A - Putin really becomes prime minister. Plan B - this is pre-election technology that will allow Medvedev to win in the first round with Putin's support."
Putin is due to step down next year in line with a constitutional ban on heads of state serving more than two consecutive terms.
In his television address, Medvedev said his guiding principle would be to continue Putin's policies. Echoing his mentor, he was assertive about Russia's place in the world.
"Russia is different now, much stronger and better-off," he said. "We are being respected and we are being listened to. We are not being treated as schoolchildren."
He suggested some changes too, saying that the wealth from Russia's oil-fuelled boom should be spread more evenly and the social safety net strengthened - a recognition of the widening gulf in Russia between rich and poor.
Medvedev, a softly-spoken former law professor from Putin's hometown of St Petersburg, received some weighty endorsements for his campaign yesterday.
Fellow First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov - who had been tipped as a presidential contender - gave his backing, as did Alexiy II, patriarch of the Russian Orthodox church.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she "believes she could work well with him (Medvedev)," Merkel's spokesman said.
Source: China Daily/Agencies