Kremlin guessing game could end next month-Ivanov

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MOSCOW, Sep 12 (Reuters) The guessing game over who Russian President Vladimir Putin will endorse to succeed him could end next month, First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov was quoted as saying today.

Ivanov told a delegation of foreign Russia scholars that the Kremlin-linked United Russia party will announce its candidate for the 2008 presidential election when it holds its congress in October, delegation member Dr. Ariel Cohen told Reuters.

The party's candidate is likely to closely match Putin's own choice to replace him when his second and final term in office ends next year.

''He (Ivanov) told us we should wait until the United Russia party congress in October to wait and see who may be the possible presidential candidate from United Russia,'' said Cohen, senior researcher at the Washington-based Heritage Foundation.

Ivanov himself is favourite in the opinion polls to succeed Putin and had been widely tipped to take over as prime minister as a stepping stone to the presidency.

But Putin earlier on Wednesday confounded expectations by nominating virtually unknown financial regulator Viktor Zubkov to replace Mikhail Fradkov as prime minister. Analysts say it is unlikely Zubkov is being groomed as a Putin successor.

Cohen said he believed there was a ''big probability'' that United Russia's candidate for the presidential election would go on to win. The party has not indicated whom it will back.

The academics met Ivanov as part of the Valdai group, which each year brings together Russia specialists for interviews with senior politicians. The group's agenda includes a meeting with Putin on Friday.

Reuters SZ VP0223

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