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2012? Next question, please

Dmitry Medvedev used his first major Q&A session with Russian and foreign media to promote himself as the country's most progressive, modernising leader ­ but failed to answer the question on everyone's lips: whether he will stand for re-election next year.

In a two-hour session with 800 journalists at Skolkovo Business School on Wednesday, Medvedev looked very much like an Americanstyle president angling for a second term.

The inevitable 2012 question came fourth in the session, from a Nezavisimaya Gazeta journalist.

"I really hoped that the conference will start with this question, but for some reason you postponed it," Medvedev said when asked who would be running for president next year ­ him or his partner in the tandem, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

Medvedev would not be drawn on whether a decision had been taken by the two men, but said that there were "political technologies" at work during the pre-election campaign.

"There are rules for such situations and I shall follow them ­ I will announce my decision very soon," he said.

In a hint that he might seek support from a party other than United Russia, Medvedev said that if he ran for re-election he would hope to be supported by the same, or different, political parties that backed him for a first term in late 2007.

Right Cause

Medvedev did not refer by name, however, to Right Cause, the right-wing party backed last week by billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, a member of the board of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs.

Several liberal politicians, including Right Cause leaders, have called on Medvedev to stand for re-election to follow through on his modernisation agenda, and many of the country's top business leaders in the private sector are thought to favour a second Medvedev term over a return to the Kremlin for Putin.

Olga Kryshtanovskaya, a leading sociologist and liberal United Russia member, told The Moscow News that Medvedev should think about creating a new political party ­ rather than be backed by a party with links to Prokhorov or other oligarchs.

"Does Prokhorov have resources other than money?" Kryshtanovskaya said. "There are different resources in politics and this should be clear. Right Cause does not have the electorate's votes now and the president should have strong allies."

Other analysts said that we should expect a decision from the ruling tandem on who will stand only after the State Duma elections in December.

Vladimir Pribylovsky, head of the Panorama think tank, told The Moscow News that it didn't matter which party supported Medvedev, as the decision would be taken within the tandem. "There is just one voter for Medvedev and he is Vladimir Putin," Pribylovsky said. "Once the State Duma elections are over, we will all know who will be our next president."

Mironov's sacking

Answering a question from Anton Vernitsky of Channel One TV about the possibility of Sergei Mironov getting the sack that day, Medvedev said that if such decision was made, Mironov should accept it "since none of us come into politics forever," he said.

Half an hour later, Medvedev reported to journalists from his iPad that Mironov had indeed just been fired.

Dmitry Gudkov, leader of Junior Just Russia, said the sacking of Mironov meant that finally the party could go into fully-fledged opposition and would not have to compromise with United Russia.

"Now we have a free hand ­ we are backed by more and more people and this is good for the party, because now we may get more votes too," Gudkov said.

Gudkov said that if Medvedev fell out with Putin, he might be able to count on support from Just Russia.

"I've met him a couple of times in person and I can say that if he is freed from the tandem, he will be more democratic than Putin, because Medvedev is young and professional ­ he's not a tsar, he's a good manager," Gudkov said.

But Kryshtanovskaya said she doubted Just Russia would be much help to Medvedev.

"They will be in turmoil now, and I doubt they will [do well] in the December elections," she said.

Kremlin pool

To get Medvedev's attention at the press conference was a tough task. One young female reporter held up a piece of paper with a heart drawn on it, while others put up both hands and waved them at the president. Medvedev mostly appeared to call on reporters in the Kremlin pool, however.

For many journalists, one exasperating feature of the press conference was the oddball range of various trivial, lobbying and softball questions asked by Russian and foreign reporters.

A journalist from AvtoRadio asked Medvedev about parking places in Moscow and whether his wife, Svetlana, would share his parking space.

"I'm pretty sure Mayor Sergei Sobyanin will be soon dealing with the parking problem and I do agree that 500 roubles per hour for parking in the city centre is a lot," Medvedev said, adding that he would discuss the issue of sharing a parking space with his wife.

Several reporters asked for economic help from Medvedev for their regions and local industries, while questions also included direct pleas on help for the reindeer population, and for housing and cars for surviving World War II veterans.

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