, SOCHI, Sep 7 – Expectations intensified Tuesday that Prime Minister Vladimir Putin may run again for the Russian presidency after he drew a surprise comparison with four-term US president Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Speculation was rife over whether Putin or President Dmitry Medvedev would stand in the 2012 polls and Putin pledged that neither he nor the current president would do anything against the Russian constitution.
"There was an American president — Roosevelt — who was elected four times in a row because the law allowed it," Putin told an annual meeting of world experts on Russia known as the Valdai Club late Monday.
The comment was in response to a question about whether Putin\’s return to the Kremlin would be a positive step for Russian democracy.
Roosevelt served an unprecedented four terms as US president from 1933-1945, spanning the Great Depression to World War II, and dying just before the Allied victory over Nazi Germany.
Putin ruled Russia as president for the maximum two consecutive terms allowed by the constitution from 2000-2008 and then handed over to Medvedev, becoming a powerful partner in the ruling tandem.
After a four-year break from the Kremlin, there is nothing to stop Putin standing for another two presidential terms.
"Neither me nor President Medvedev will do anything that runs counter to the basic law, the constitution of the Russian Federation," Putin said during a nearly two and a half hour dinner with the group in the Black Sea resort of Sochi.
"We have talked about what we will do in 2011 or at the start of 2012 several times. We will act according to the real situation in the country, from what we have done, from the mood of the country," said Putin.
But the 57-year-old added: "It\’s still early to talk about this."
Many experts believe that Putin holds the real power in Russia and has been planning to return to the Kremlin in 2012.
The former KGB agent last week said in a newspaper interview that he wanted to remain "involved" in Russian politics and made a high-profile trip across Siberia in a yellow Lada that some saw as early campaigning.
"Putin needs to run for the presidency, whether he likes it or not, as he cannot step aside. Creators of an authoritarian regime always have problems with stepping down," said liberal political analyst Dmitry Oreshkin.
"The names that he mentions — be it Roosevelt, Gandhi or Napoleon — shows in what ranks he counts himself," he added.
On foreign policy, which is traditionally the responsibility of the president, Putin praised US President Barack Obama, saying he was "a very deep, profound person with his own view of the world."
"We do see eye to eye in our assessment of the world\’s problems," said Putin.
Putin also pledged that the South Stream pipeline project, crossing the Black Sea, would be finished swiftly, and voiced doubt that its EU-backed rival Nabucco would have similar luck.
Nabucco may have trouble filling the pipeline as "Russia will not add anything there, Iran has not yet developed the requisite fields, and Azerbaijan produces small amounts and has already signed a contract to supply gas to Russia," Putin said.
The Nabucco project envisages a pipeline bypassing Russia and sending gas from the Caucasus and Central Asia to Western Europe via Turkey and the Balkans.
"Of course, there may be a company that will invest billions there without preliminary contracts — God help them, then, I see nothing tragic in this," Putin quipped.
The prime minister also took aim at jailed oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, accusing him of resorting to murder to protect his business interests.
"His hands are stained with blood," he said. "He killed people to protect the economic interests of his company."
Khodorkovsky, once Russia\’s richest man, is on trial a second time on charges of embezzlement and money laundering. He has never been charged with murder.
The former head of Yukos oil company was jailed for eight years in 2005 on charges of fraud and tax evasion that his supporters argue were trumped up to punish the tycoon for daring to finance opposition parties.