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Russian election season opens as Medvedev gives huge press conference

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev is in the middle of giving a huge press conference, marking the opening of full blown electioneering by the Kremlin. Pundits were watching closely, expecting (hoping?) that the president would announce his candidacy for the presidential election in March 2012.

The election question was the fourth to come up and Medvedev himself said he was expecting it to be first. But he moved quickly on to dodgy the issue.

"This is political life not a show. Political life is complicated and sophisticated and there is a certain technology to follow in politics..." Medvedev said. "Therefore, these decisions have to be made at the right time and when it has maximum effect. You need a different format and this press conference is not the proper format [to announce a presidential bid."

Medvedev then started fielding questions from over 800 journalists in attendance and has been forthright in his answers.

His opening remarks were: "Modernisation: have we had any outstanding achievements yet? No we haven't... but modernisation is the most important thing in our country today."

That is about all you need to know about this speech. Like Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's speeches to the Duma in April and to United Russia at the start of May, this press conference is part of the launch of what will be a sustained campaign by the Kremlin to rev up the people ahead of the twin elections for the Duma in December and the presidency in March 2012.

Both men are using these appearances to clearly define different but complimentary personas ­ Medvedev the "modernist" and Putin the "traditionalist" ­ that will appeal to the increasingly divided voting population of haves (the middle class) and have-nots (those that are not directly benefiting from Russia's transformation or simply yearn for the certainties of the past).

This media campaign is motivated by the fact that the Kremlin is facing a silent political crisis. The party of power United Russia has lost all credibility in the eyes of the man in the street and will struggle to win a simple majority in December's vote. The twin leaders need to revitalise the government's appeal to the population and so are highlighting all the progress that has been made in the last 10 years. In the six months up to the election expect more of the same, building to a crescendo in December and then again after the long winter break.

In parallel to the leaders' speeches, Putin has floated the idea of an All-Russian National Front that unites several non-government organisations (that are nevertheless tied to the Kremlin) to give voters a more palatable alternative to United Russia, widely dubbed the party of "thieves and crooks."

There is bound to be a storm of comment in tomorrow's press, but the main takeaway is that as Medvedev mounts his own media campaign (and he is doing very well, looking comfortable, confident and in command of his facts) in parallel to Putin's, the chances that both men will stay in their respective jobs following the double vote is now increasingly likely. This is clearly a coordinated double act with complimentary messages: Putin's version is "Russia is back" and Medvedev's is "the future belongs to Russia."

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