SOCHI, September 14 (RIA Novosti) - President Vladimir Putin said Friday, soon after appointing a new prime minister, that five people could run for president in the March 2008 elections, but did not name the possible candidates.
"There are now at least five people who can run for president and can be elected. It's good that another person [Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov] has appeared, and that Russian citizens will have a selection of candidates to choose from," Putin told an informal meeting of the Valdai discussion forum in the Black Sea resort of Sochi.
Commenting on Putin's remarks, some Russian political experts suggested that the list of likely candidates remained unchanged except for the addition of Zubkov.
"It is unlikely that ex-premier Kasyanov will abandon the presidential race," said Dmitry Oreshkin, head of the Mercator think tank. "Communist leader Zyuganov... will also continue to pursue his presidential ambitions."
Sergei Markov, the head of the Institute of Political Research, a Kremlin-connected Moscow think tank, said acting First Deputy Prime Ministers Sergei Ivanov and Dmitry Medvedev and acting deputy PM Sergei Naryshkin remained solid candidates for president.
Vitaly Tretyakov, editor-in-chief of Moskovskiye Novosti weekly, said Zubkov's chances of becoming president were minimal. In his opinion, Sergei Ivanov remains the leading candidate, ahead of number two candidate Dmitry Medvedev.
Nikolai Zlobin, director of Russian and Asian Programs at the Center for Defense Information research NGO in Washington, also present at the Sochi forum, said President Putin had not yet decided whether to run for the presidency at the following elections, in 2012. The president is forbidden by the Russian Constitution from serving three terms in a row.
Zubkov, 65, chief fiscal monitor for the last six years, was nominated for the post of prime minister on Wednesday when Putin dismissed the government and Premier Mikhail Fradkov, three months before parliamentary elections.
Soon after his nomination, Zubkov announced he could run for the presidency in March 2008, when Putin's term is set to expire.
The Russian president signed a decree Friday confirming Zubkov as prime minister after the lower house of parliament voted overwhelmingly to back his candidacy.
The president's choice of the relatively-unknown candidate came as a surprise, following widely-circulated rumors that Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov, Putin's close ally seen as his likely successor, would assume the post.