Vladimir Putin will not step down as prime minister when he is campaigning for Russia's presidency, his spokesman said on Thursday, dismissing reports he might become acting president to help secure re-election to the Kremlin.
Financial markets have been abuzz with talk that Putin might launch a re-run of his initial rise to the presidency in 1999, when ailing President Boris Yeltsin resigned on New Year's Eve and Putin took over as acting president.
In a research note that attracted wide attention, Moscow brokerage Otkritie suggested that President Dmitry Medvedev could step down early, allowing Putin to assume the presidency on an acting basis until the March 4 election.
Otkritie analysts Vladimir Tikhomirov and Tom Mundy also wrote that Putin could stand down and delegate the day-to-day running of the government to a senior technocrat for the duration of the campaign.
Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, dismissed any suggestions that the 59-year-old premier would take a leave of absence, and questioned any interpretation of Russian election law that suggests otherwise.
The situation on the financial markets is a difficult one. Not all financial analysts manage to maintain mental sobriety, Peskov said.
Putin continues to work as chairman of the government. If any events have an entirely campaign-related nature, he will take a vacation, he said. But on the whole he will carry out his day-to-day duties as prime minister. He does not have to take any vacation.
Protests against alleged fraud in a December 4 parliamentary election that reduced the lower house majority of Putin's United Russia party have unsettled investors, causing a sell-off in Russian stocks and the rouble.
With the field of presidential candidates yet to take shape, some analysts have suggested that Putin could move early to secure a third term in the Kremlin by switching roles to prevent a credible challenger from emerging.
Their view is based on a reading of Russian election law which states that officials, once their candidacy is registered shall be relieved, for the period of their participation in the election of the President of the Russian Federation, from their official duties.
If Medvedev were to resign early in favour of Putin that would risk exacerbating protests against the official results of the lower-house election that drew tens of thousands last weekend. The next big rally is planned in Moscow on December 24.
If this happens it would be a usurpation of power, if not in the letter then in spirit, and the rally on December 24 risks becoming an uprising said Igor Yurgens, head of the Institute for Contemporary Development, a pro-Medvedev think tank.
Leaders of Russia's opposition outside parliament said it would make no difference whether Putin stays on as prime minister or takes a leave of absence.
It doesn't matter if he resigns or not. He remains the most influential person among the Russian authorities, said Vladimir Milov, an opposition figure and a former deputy energy minister.
Whatever the formalities - they do not matter. Regardless, Putin is the main player and our main opponent.
(Additional reporting by Lidia Kelly, Writing by Douglas Busvine, Editing by Rosalind Russell)