Putin more popular than me, so I'm quitting - Medvedev
Russian president Dmitry Medvedev has defended his controversial decision to step down next year in favour of Vladimir Putin, saying that his mentor and rival is simply more popular than him.
Mr Medvedev told Russian television stations that he and Mr Putin shared the same goals, but acknowledged that Mr Putin had broader public support.
"Putin undoubtedly is the most authoritative politician in our country and his ratings are higher," he said.
Mr Medvedev and Mr Putin, who is now prime minister, announced over the weekend that they would swap places.
Mr Putin stepped down in 2008 after eight years as president due to a term limit but he has continued to call the shots and is certain to win March's presidential election.
While state-controlled national TV has given ample coverage to both leaders, Mr Putin has been far more astute in using television to cultivate his image as Russia's most powerful person, riding a horse bare-chested through the mountains, swimming in a Siberian river and driving motorcycles.
The iPad-toting and tweeting Mr Medvedev looks boyish compared to his steely-eyed mentor.
Last weekend, Mr Putin's United Russia party approved his proposal that Mr Medvedev heads the party list for December's parliamentary elections and becomes prime minister after the election.
The opposition denounced the planned swap as a show of contempt for democracy.
Mr Putin is eligible to serve another 12 years because the presidential term will be extended from four to six years, which would make him the longest-serving leader since Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.
Liberal politicians and commentators pointed at steady erosion of Russia's post-Soviet democratic achievements under Mr Putin's rule and warned that his return to the presidency would set the stage for further crackdowns on freedoms.
Many Kremlin critics have said that Mr Putin has turned the elections in Russia into a farce by adopting laws that bar radical opposition from the ballot. The opposition has cited ample evidence of voting manipulations during previous elections.
"An honest and respectable vote count is impossible," Communist Party chief Gennady Zyuganov said yesterday. (© Daily Telegraph, London)