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    U.S. spy master says intrigue over the Kremlin successor deepens

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    A senior U.S. intelligence analyst said political maneuvering in Russia is intensifying as the country approaches presidential elections in March 2008.

    WASHINGTON, July 12 (RIA Novosti) - A senior U.S. intelligence analyst said political maneuvering in Russia is intensifying as the country approaches presidential elections in March 2008.

    Speaking before U.S. lawmakers, Thomas Fingar, National Intelligence Council deputy director for analysis, gave an analytical assessment of the current situation in Russia as part of a report about global security threats facing the United States.

    "As Russia moves toward a presidential election in March 2008, succession maneuvering has intensified and increasingly dominates Russian domestic and foreign policy," he said Wednesday in a prepared testimony before the House of Representatives' Armed Services Committee.

    Russia will hold parliamentary elections in December this year and presidential elections in March 2008.

    To date, former Central Bank chairman Viktor Gerashchenko, Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov, former Soviet dissident Vladimir Bukovsky, Mikhail Kasyanov, an ex-prime minister and leader of the Russian People's Democratic Union, and Grigory Yavlinsky, leader of the liberal Yabloko party, have announced their plans to run for the presidency.

    President Vladimir Putin, who has been increasingly criticized in the West for his anti-democratic record, but who remains popular within Russia, has repeatedly denied any possibility of him staying in office for a third term, and is widely expected to name "a successor".

    The upcoming elections have prompted media frenzy both in Russia and in the West over possible "runners" for future Russian leader.

    Two first deputy prime ministers and close associates of Putin, Sergei Ivanov and Dmitry Medvedev, are currently viewed as the most likely successors to the president.

    But a senior Kremlin official said in June a successor for Vladimir Putin could be someone not widely considered as a potential candidate.

    Igor Shuvalov, speaking at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said: "People talk about two possible candidates, but the president could come up with another surprise, and perhaps later this year you could learn about another potential candidate."

    Russian media cited Monday an anonymous Kremlin source as saying Igor Ivanov, the secretary of the Russian Security Council, intends to step down later in July to join the presidential race.

    The Novye Izvestia daily suggested that Ivanov had been groomed for the post by an influential Kremlin grouping.

    "He is loyal, obedient and rather vulnerable, since most of his income (an estimated $5-7 million a year) purportedly comes from the gambling business in which he has a share," the paper said.

    Meanwhile, the U.S. intelligence official reiterated warnings about the alleged clampdown on democracy in Russia and the Kremlin's attempts to assume control over key sectors of the Russian economy.

    "The last year has seen expanded Kremlin efforts to stifle political opposition and widen state control over strategic sectors of the economy," Fingar said. "Those trends are likely to deepen as the succession draws closer."

    He also warned about the growing political rift in relations between Washington and Moscow as Russia's blossoming aspirations to become an energy superpower continue to bolster the Kremlin's confidence both at home and abroad.

    "Russian assertiveness will continue to inject elements of rivalry and antagonism into U.S. dealings with Moscow, particularly our interactions in the former Soviet Union, and will affect our ability to cooperate with Russia on issues ranging from counterterrorism and nonproliferation to energy and democracy promotion in the Middle East," the intelligence analyst said.

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