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Russia awaits presidential hint from Medvedev

President Dmitry Medvedev Wednesday is expected to shed some light on his political ambitions in a rare news conference at the innovation centre that is the hub of his dream to modernise Russia.

Astonishingly, the event at the Skolkovo centre outside Moscow at 0900 GMT is being billed as the first news conference of the entire Medvedev presidency, over three years since he took over the Kremlin from Vladimir Putin in 2008.

Medvedev has never held a full-scale question-and-answer session with the press as Putin did annually in the last years of his presidency, only giving statements in briefings and appearances with foreign leaders.

The timing of the event appears significant, with Russia in full pre-election speculation mode amid a fog of uncertainty over who out of Medvedev and Putin, now prime minister, will run in 2012 presidential elections.

Every word of the ruling duo’s comments is now scrutinised by post-Soviet Kremlinologists for signs of differences in strategy or a hint of a clear ambition to stand as the establishment candidate in 2012.

Some analysts have detected lately an increasing confidence in Medvedev, once dismissed as a mere puppet of the man who has dominated Russia since the resignation of Boris Yeltsin.

He broke the pattern of the two men never disagreeing in public by bluntly contradicting Putin’s statements on Libya and last week even expressing concern that the over-concentration of power was dangerous for the state.

The location of the news conference also appears symbolic, with Skolkovo the cornerstone of Medvedev’s drive to turn Russia into a modern and innovation-based economy that has been the mantra of his presidency.

Medvedev raised eyebrows this year by comparing his own reform drive to the historic decision 150 years ago by Tsar Alexander II to emancipate the serfs, a sign for some that Medvedev would not be content with one Kremlin mandate.

Meanwhile Putin, who immediately became Russia’s most powerful post-Soviet prime minister after leaving the Kremlin, has shown no sign of wishing to surrender the reins of power despite some sniping from pro-business lobbies.

Putin outlined a long-term plan for Russia’s development in an address to parliament in April — hardly the behaviour of a man on his way out — and this month announced the creation of a popular front to unite his supporters.

Polls still show widespread support for the ruling United Russia party and Putin, which has little chance of cracking ahead of December legislative elections and the presidential polls.

But under Medvedev there has also been an increase in criticism of the authorities, mainly through the Internet which is finally taking off in Russia as broadband access spreads.

Russia’s leaders now find themselves routinely mocked on blogs while the Internet is used to show up the excesses of the authorities from corruption to the disdainful driving of siren-screaming official motorcades.

Medvedev is a keen blogger and proudly brandishes his iPad at official meetings, unlike Putin who once famously snorted that half of what is on the Internet is porn.

However it is not known what Medvedev thinks of Russia’s most famous blogger Alexei Navalny, who routinely exposes corruption on his blog and is seen by his supporters as a possible political alternative to the ruling duo.