MOSCOW -- Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Saturday proposed Vladimir Putin as presidential candidate for 2012, almost certainly guaranteeing Putin's return to the office four years after he was legally forced to step aside.
Medvedev made the proposal in an address to a congress of United Russia, the pro-Kremlin party that dominates Russian politics.
Putin, who currently serves as prime minister, took the rostrum immediately after Medvedev and launched into a lengthy lecture on changes and policies he saw necessary for Russia. That included a surprising suggestion that Russia's wealthy should pay higher taxes than average citizens.
The flat income tax that came into effect during Putin's 2000-2008 presidency has been widely praised as improving tax collection. But Putin's proposal for higher taxes for the wealthy appears to reflect growing discontent over the wide gaps between the grandiosely rich and the millions of Russians who continue living in poverty or marginal circumstances.
The congress must formally nominate its candidate, which appeared to be a foregone conclusion judging by the heavy applause that greeted Medvedev's proposal.
The proposal appears to end months of intense speculation over whether Medvedev would seek a second term or step aside in favor of his powerful predecessor.
Putin became prime minister in 2008 after two terms as president, stepping aside because of constitutional term limits, but as Russia's most powerful and popular politician he had been widely expected seek a return to the Kremlin.
Medvedev had been widely seen as simply a caretaker figure. As president, he has struck a reformist posture, calling for improvements in Russia's notoriously unreliable court system and for efforts against the country's endemic corruption. But his initiatives have produced little tangible result.
Medvedev on Saturday said he would continue his reform efforts and implied he would aim to stay in government after the presidential elections, for which a date has not been set.
Under constitutional changes, the presidential term in 2012 will be six years instead of four, putting Putin, if he wins, in a position of nearly unchallengeable power.
Putin, who built his popularity on the back of strong economic growth, told the party congress on Friday that salaries and pensions would continue to grow, and he promised increased funding for education, health care and housing.
But he also cautioned that the government may need to take unpopular steps to cope with the global financial turmoil.
"The task of the government is not only to pour honey into a cup, but sometimes to give bitter medicine," Putin said. "But this should always be done openly and honestly, and then the overwhelming majority of people will understand their government."