During his meeting with the Valdai Club experts, the Russian president asked his colleague, former Prime Minister of France Francois Fillon, if he would run for presidency. The French politician said he would only say if Putin answered the question in relation to himself. "I do not rule out the possibility,” Putin said.
James Sherr, Associate Fellow, Russia and Eurasia Programme at the Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House), cautioned against taking the statement at face value. It was probably a joke, he said. Today, for the first time, we witnessed Putin’s keen sense of humor in full flow. Of course, it was just a joke, James Sherr told RIA Novosti on the sidelines of the Valdai meeting. However, most Western experts pointed out that there's a grain of truth in every joke.
Richard Sakwa, a professor of Russian and European Politics at the University of Kent, believes that Putin was bound to use the opportunity to hint that he could keep his post not just for another five years, but possibly for 11. The professor said that although Putin seemed to have said so in jest, it was the first time he had made mention of this. I think that it is indeed an interesting statement, Mr. Sakwa told RIA Novosti.
Several experts said that this did not really come as a surprise. It was no secret, and it did not come as news to me, said Samuel Charap, Senior Fellow for Russia and Eurasia at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS).
Helene Carrere d’Encausse, Permanent Secretary of Academie Francaise, also noted Putin’s words about the future of his political career.
"I was waiting for that question,” she said. "He is doing a great deal for Russia, and he knows that he must carry this work on as long as he can. He is a man with a historical vision. He knows that Russia has a difficult history. Russia has fallen many times, but it has always got back up again and struggled on forward. Putin knows that the country cannot keep living through hardship for ever, even though it was built on these difficulties,” Ms. Carrere d’Encausse said.
Putin’s words about the possibility of running for re-election in 2018 are aimed at preventing destabilization. He cannot look like a lame duck at the beginning of his third term, political analyst Vladimir Slatinov said.
Western experts said they saw a constructive dialogue between the authorities and the opposition. Representatives of the opposition parties said they saw some movement towards them.
"I asked a question that worries millions – about the falsification of election results in some regions, and he [Putin] suggested discussing the issue,” saidVladimir Ryzhkov, co-chairman of the RPR-Parnas party. "He said, ‘Yes, let’s see what else we can do to ensure that elections are competitive not only in two or three regions, as it was this time, but everywhere across the country.’”
The opposition also hopes the president will use his right to amnesty the Bolotnaya Square protesters, Ryzhkov said.