MOSCOW – Vladimir Putin said Saturday he’ll run for Russia’s presidency next year, almost certainly ensuring he’ll retake the office and foreshadowing years more of a strongman rule that many in the West have criticized as a retreat from democracy. The announcement sets up the possibility that Putin could reign over Russia until 2024.

In nominating Putin on Saturday, his United Russia party also approved his proposal that President Dmitry Medvedev take over Putin’s current role as prime minister.

Putin took over the premiership after serving as president from 2000-2008, bowing to term limits. But he was always the more powerful figure, with Medvedev viewed as a caretaker president.

Putin’s return to the presidency also is unlikely to ease Russia’s dispute with the United States over the building of a European missile-defense system. Economic pressures, however, could push Putin to pursue more business-friendly policies, analysts said.

During his presidency, Putin ruled Russia with a steely command, bringing about a system known as “managed democracy” that saw opposition politicians all but eliminated from the national eye. His personal popularity aided his maneuvering. Many Russians view Putin as the strong, decisive figure needed by a sprawling country troubled by corruption, an Islamist insurgency and massive economic inequality.

Putin cultivates an image of absolute certainty, substantial strength and acerbic humor. The 58-year-old’s widely covered pursuits often revolve around “manly” activities, such as hunting, fishing and motorcycling. Photos of a bare-chested Putin have been a hit.

His nomination at a congress of the United Russia party ends months of intense speculation as to whether he would seek to return to the Kremlin or whether he would allow the more mild-mannered and reform-leaning Medvedev to seek another term in next year’s election.

The presidential election, to be held March 4, is preceded by national parliamentary elections on Dec. 4, in which United Russia will seek to retain its dominance; the party has 312 of the 450 seats in the current parliament.

The period for formal submission of presidential candidates’ names has not yet begun, and it is unclear who might choose to challenge Putin for president. As president, Medvedev called for improvements in Russia’s unreliable court system and for efforts against the country’s endemic corruption. But his initiatives have produced little tangible result.

Moving Medvedev to the premiership could set him up to take the brunt of criticism for austerity measures that Putin has warned will be necessary for Russia amid global economic turmoil.