After months of intrigue that fueled rampant speculation, Putin has finally endorsed a successor.

Drum roll, please…


And the winner is…Dmitri Medvedev.

Medvedev has been considered a front-runner for years, along with former Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov. In recent months, this seemed to be working against him. Since September, when Putin abruptly dismissed the cabinet and appointed a new prime minister, all the buzz has surrounded Putin’s supposed plan to remain in power, either to regain the presidency or serve as the puppet-master for a weak successor, as the siloviki consolidate their hold on the reins of power, fueling a rising emphasis on a resurgent Russia that is increasingly confrontational with the West.

The choice of Medvedev puts a kibosh on these lines of speculation. Medvedev is young and ambitious. And he is not a silovik. He’s a technocrat who is generally considered to be a member of the liberal-leaning, more pro-western faction in the Kremlin.

So what does this choice represent? It may represent a victory of the petro-interests–Medvedev is chairman of Gazprom (though he is widely perceived in this role as little more than Putin’s mouthpiece). It is also possible that the selection of Medvedev is intended as a check on the growing power of the siloviki, who have been becoming increasingly bold and restive, even going so far as to fight amongst themselves.

Medvedev is also an electoral novice who is not known for his charisma. Has Putin decided that this weakness will make him dependent on Putin’s personal popularity (and thus easier to manipulate)? But Putin himself was elevated to the presidency as a political novice with support from Yeltsin’s entourage, who erroneously assumed that they could control him. Medvedev’s youth and ambition, when combined with the power of the office, could produce a similar result. Surely Putin is aware of this danger.

As always, surprises abound. We’ll keep watching and waiting. Kremlinology is alive and well.