MOSCOW - Agence France- Presse
Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev receives his party card of the ruling party United Russia in Moscow, on May 22, 2012. AFP Photo
Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev
on Tuesday joined the ruling United Russia
party after over four years in power where he had kept his distance from the dominant political faction.
has dominated Russian
party politics for a decade but strangely neither Medvedev nor his mentor President Vladimir Putin had until now become card-carrying members.
State television showed a grinning Medvedev showing off his new shiny party card -- which looks just like a credit card -- at a meeting with party activists in Moscow.
His membership comes ahead of a congress of United Russia
on Saturday which is expected to formally confirm Medvedev as its overall leader, a position that had previously been held by Putin.
It is also one of the finishing touches for Russia's new leadership structure that saw Putin earlier this month return to the presidency which Medvedev held from 2008 while the Russian
strongman served as prime minister.
"In order to lead a process -- like leading a state, being in charge of the government while relying on a political force -- you need to be inside that political force," said Medvedev.
"If you like, this is a part of political culture." Medvedev's move to join the party appears to be a clear signal that he and Putin expect it to be a pillar of Russian
politics for years, dispelling rumours it could be disbanded after its support dropped in December elections.
The party won 49.35 percent of the vote, down sharply from over 64 percent in 2007, in a result that the opposition said would have been far worse if the elections had been fair.
The opposition has latched onto a growing public perception of United Russia
as arrogant and corrupt, denouncing it as a "party of crooks and thieves".
While he was over midway through his presidential term in November 2010, Medvedev had sharply criticised United Russia
and said "our political life started showing symptoms of stagnation." But since September's announcement that he was surrendering the Kremlin to Putin and taking the job of prime minister, Medvedev has never repeated this and other boldly reformist pronouncements from that time.
There has been no sign that Putin will become a formal member of United Russia, in what appears a bid to stay above routine politics and protect himself should the party's popularity decline.