Medvedev talks to the nation before campaign season

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Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev was to deliver a highly anticipated address on Tuesday which may give signs of whether he will stay on or cede powers to his strongman Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

The state-of-nation address, to be delivered before Russia's two houses of parliament at noon (0900 GMT), had been delayed several times amid guesswork over its secret contents.

The president's last two addresses had been blandly optimistic and stressed economic modernisation. Last year, the most discussed element of his speech was the change of the number of time zones in Russia.

This year observers expect something different, judging by Medvedev's recent rhetoric which appears to strongly criticize the political status quo.

In the past few days Medvedev hinted at disagreement with Putin, Medvedev's mentor who is believed to still be making all key decisions.

While Medvedev is not expected to make a direct mention of the 2012 presidential election, he may breach Russia's ruling tandem by criticizing the government headed by Putin.

Both leaders have up to now affirmed that their partnership -- which they describe as a "tandem" -- is rock-solid and that they will peacefully decide among themselves who will formally run in 2012.

But speculation has run high in recent month as Putin engaged in several eclectic publicity stunts, like putting out a wildfire from a plane and racing in a Formula One car, which were both branded as campaign-like events.

Medvedev recently accused the country's ruling United Russia party of "stagnation", a term usually used by historians to describe the years in Soviet history prior to its collapse.

Unlike previous speeches, only a few select Kremlin staff have any knowledge of what the president will say this year, and he had been rewriting parts of the speech right up until the Tuesday delivery, media have reported.

Analysts have also suggested that Medvedev may adopt the "change" platform used by US President Barack Obama in the campaign which elected him two years ago.

Trud newspaper reported on Tuesday citing an unnamed source that Medvedev was in the process of creating a new political party which would participate in the parliamentary elections next year and then back him in 2012.

People are being currently recruited for the future party in a number of regions, the report said. "We are avoiding people with polar leftist or rightist views, odious personalities that have had problems with the law or those with any criminal ties," the source said.

Stakes are raised for the next presidential election as the term has been lengthened to six years, a change Medvedev himself proposed in his first state-of-nation address in late 2008.

Putin stepped down as required by the Russian constitution in 2008 after serving two consecutive terms as president, but is eligible to run for the office again under a legal loophole.

He has rarely been challenged by Russian officials and even US diplomats concede in private that Medvedev is being held hostage to his prime minister's whims.

But Putin insists that a formal decision on who will stand for president will be made jointly by himself and Medvedev -- and that it will be done so in private and on peaceful terms.

© 2010 AFP

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