NEW: Putin says Medvedev should be the next prime minister if the party is reelected
Putin sets out goals for Russia's economic growth
Putin previously served as president from 2000 to 2008
Presidential elections will be held in March, after a parliamentary ballot in December
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev called on the ruling United Russia party Saturday to endorse Prime Minister Vladimir Putin for president in 2012.
Putin in turn suggested that Medvedev should take over the role of prime minister if the party wins parliamentary elections in December, in what would be a straight swap of roles.
Putin has already served two terms as the country’s president from 2000 to 2008.
It had not been clear until now whether Medvedev, his protege, would seek to run for a second term in presidential elections due to take place in March, fueling months of speculation.
Addressing the party congress in Moscow, Medvedev said he wanted to answer the important question of who would be the party’s presidential candidate – and that he believed it should be Putin, the party’s chairman.
The ruling party’s endorsement makes it highly likely that Putin will be returned to the country’s top office, observers say.
Medvedev’s remarks were interrupted by applause as the crowd gave Putin a standing ovation.
“This applause spares me the need to explain what experience and authority Vladimir Putin possesses,” Medvedev said.
He explained the long delay in making clear which of them would run for president next year as an issue of “political expediency,” saying they had to play by the rules of politics.
Medvedev, who said he accepted Putin’s proposal that he stand for prime minister, said the government had succeeded in restoring a country that had been in “a deep decline, in a systemic crisis” a decade ago.
“By our common efforts we’ve managed to preserve and restore our beloved fatherland, our Russia. And we will not give it back to anyone,” he said.
“We will not give it back to those who want to destroy it, to those who deceive people by giving them empty and unfeasible slogans and promises.”
In his own speech, Putin said it was a great honor to run for president and that his voice of command “is not lost.”
He said he wanted to see economic growth in Russia increase to 6-7% in the near future. In the next five years, Russia should be among the five most powerful economies in the world, he said.
Putin also set out the task of fully rearming the Russian armed forces in the next five to 10 years.
Putin said he was sure the United Russia party, whose election ticket will be headed by Medvedev, would win December’s parliamentary elections.
Medvedev would “be able to build a new, efficiently-functioning and young team of managers, and lead the government so as to continue modernization of all aspects of our lives,” Putin added.
For more than two years, Putin and Medvedev have repeatedly said they would decide together which of them would run for the Russian presidency in 2012, fanning the flames of intrigue.
Even during his time as prime minister, Putin has been widely perceived as the senior member of the Russian “ruling tandem.”
Putin had stepped down in 2008 because the Russian constitution at that time limited a president to two consecutive four-year terms.
Under amendments to the constitution that came into force on December 31, 2008, the presidential term was extended to six years.
This means that if Putin is elected in March 2012 for six years, he would be eligible to run for another six-year term after that, potentially keeping him in charge until 2024.
Under the same constitutional amendments the term for parliament members was extended from four to five years.
Currently, the United Russia controls more than 300 seats in the 450-seat State Duma, the lower chamber of the Russian parliament.
More than 10,000 people attended the party congress, held in Moscow’s Luzhniki Sports Arena.
CNN’s Maxim Tkachenko and Alla Eshchenko contributed to this report.