Putin's successor to become known no earlier than 2007 - experts

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MOSCOW, June 28 (RIA Novosti) - The discussion of a potential successor to President Vladimir Putin has been taken up with renewed force recently, Moskovsky Komsomolets, a daily, reported.

Although the candidacies of Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov and Vladimir Yakunin, the new head of Russian Railways, have come to prominence recently, experts told the paper that the real successor would become known no earlier than 2007.

Political scientist Stanislav Belkovsky said: "Neither Ivanov nor Yakunin are realistic candidates. Putin has so far been inclined to see Sergei Mironov and Boris Gryzlov, the speakers of the two chambers of the Russian parliament in this capacity."

However, in his opinion, the president also understands that there is no real successor, a leader, in his team capable of assuming responsibility for the country. The Kremlin has not yet worked out a concept for how the continuity of power can be ensured. It will most likely be prepared a year before the 2008 presidential campaign.

Experts said they were sure that United Russia, which has a majority in the lower chamber of parliament, would remain the main force for the Kremlin in the 2007 election to the Duma.

Director the Politika Foundation Vyacheslav Nikonov said: "Public opinion polls have shown that the pro-Kremlin United Russia party is the leading political force. I do not see the reasons why Putin should reject its support."

According to Belkovsky, the absolutely predictable and reliable Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) will be United Russia's party-satellite. The presidential party will sink the other political structures that were initially considered to be pro-Kremlin, ranging from the left-wing patriotic Homeland Party to the Pensioners' Party. "The Kremlin is terribly scared of any unpredictability and independence," Belkovsky said. "So the indestructible bloc of United Russia and the LDPR will be Putin's only support."

Experts consider that left-wing and patriotic forces will become the center of the consolidation of the real opposition to Putin. Belkovsky said he believed the United States would support the strongest figure capable of retaining power. However, in his opinion, Putin suits the West fine so far.

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