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Berlusconi calls Obama 'tanned'

Guess we know who isn't getting the first White House visit:

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi today praised Barack Obama, saying the U.S. president-elect is "young, handsome and also tanned."

Berlusconi, speaking in Italian during a press conference with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in Moscow, said he was sure he would get along well with Obama because he is "giovane, bello, e abbronzato."

Later, when he returned to his hotel, Berlusconi said his comment "was a big compliment," Italy's state news wire Ansa reported. "If some people don't have a sense of humor, then it's their problem," he said, according to Ansa. Only "imbeciles" would interpret his comments as derogatory, Berlusconi was quoted as saying by Ansa.

On the other hand, maybe Silvio could become vice president...

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Putin for president in 2009?

Western media have picked up a story from the Russian business daily Vedemosti speculating that Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin may be planning a return to the presidency, perhaps as early as 2009. That the whole story is reported second-hand and based on one anonymous source makes me a bit wary (Matt Drudge is less cautious). That said, the scenario doesn't seem completely outlandish and fits with some of the theories that were floating around back when Putin first announced Dmitry Medvedev as his replacement in December 2007.

Medvedev's proposal to expand the presidential term to six years may have been step one of the plan:

Mr Medvedev announced the reform today [Wednesday] in his first state-of-the-nation address to Russia's legislators. The newspaper quoted an unidentified Kremlin official as saying that the initiative had been drawn up last year, while Mr Putin was still president.

Mr Medvedev, 43, would oversee the constitutional amendment and push through some unpopular social reforms before resigning in 2009 and calling a snap election to make way for his mentor.

Mr Putin, 56, would then govern for two more terms, totaling 12 years. This would take his second presidential era to 2021, the paper noted, one year beyond the completion of the so-called "Putin Plan" for Russia's economic and social development.

Putin might also use the financial crisis to his advantage. Medvedev seems to be taking the lead in talking to the Russian public about the economy while Putin sticks to foreign policy, his strong suit. If the economic situation significantly worsens, Medvedev and his fellow "liberals" can take the blame for the fallout. Putin can then make his return to the presidency on a hardline nationalist platform. How much say Medvedev has in all of this is anyone's guess.

I would treat this story more as a calculated leak designed to test public opinion rather than a set plan of action, but it's certainly appearing more likely that the United States will be dealing with Vladimir Putin throughout the Obama administration, and perhaps into the next one as well.

Photo: Artyom Korotayev/Epsilon/Getty Images