Vova and Dima 4eva?

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Giving cold shoulders? In a rare sign of friction between Russia's ruling duo, President Dmitry Medvedev recently responded, "We'll have a test to see whether we have the same blood type," when asked about rumors that Prime Minister Vladimir Putin was planning a return to the presidency in 2012. If the two men really weren't getting along, you wouldn't know from their carefully stage-managed public image. The two men, and their media handlers, have gone to great lengths over the last two years to demonstrate that they are close friends. Above, then President Putin and presidential candidate Medvedev take a stroll through the forest outside Moscow on Dec. 30, 2007. The photo op was widely used in campaign posters for their United Russia party.

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Putin has known Medvedev since they worked together in the St. Petersburg mayor's office in the 1990s, and Putin hired him as his campaign manager in 2000. During the Putin years, Medvedev, a member of the influential political faction known as the "St. Petersburg lawyers," served as chairman of state energy monopoly Gazprom and was appointed first deputy prime minister in 2005. The move was significant -- Putin had held the same position in Boris Yeltsin's government before he was elevated to the presidency. Here, Putin laughs with his deputy at a Kremlin gala on Dec. 24, 2007.

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In an election that more closely resembled an appointment, Medvedev won the presidency with 63 percent of the vote. Putin stayed on as prime minister, leading most Russians to conclude that he was still, in fact, running the country. Medvedev has continued to fight the impression that he is merely a figurehead, keeping Putin's seat warm until 2012. On March 2, 2008, the two men celebrated the release of preliminary election results with a surprise appearance at a rock concert in Red Square.

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In an interesting bit of political theater at the beginning of Medvedev's presidency, Putin arrived for his first meeting with the president and moved toward his old seat on the left side of the desk. Then he paused to say, "Now this is your place."

"Oh, what's the difference?" said Medvedev, before sitting down in the traditional visitor's chair on the right side. For what it's worth, Medvedev now sits on the left side of the table, as the above Sept. 9 photo proves.

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Over the years, Putin, ex-KGB agent, has become famous for photo ops involving outdoor sports and masculine activities. Despite several attempts, Medvedev, a self-professed computer geek and technocrat, has never looked quite as comfortable with a hunting rifle or a fishing rod. The two men did take a heavily photographed ski outing on Jan. 4, though.

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In recent months, Medvedev has appeared to step out more, launching a widely publicized campaign against government corruption and criticizing the previous government's handling of the economy in the lead-up to the financial crisis. Although he has never specifically criticized Putin, there have been some small signs that Medvedev might be trying to distance himself from his political benefactor. Perhaps with this perception in mind, the Kremlin PR machine went into overdrive during a recent vacation the two leaders took to the Black Sea resort of Sochi. Above, the two leaders take in the night life on Aug. 12.

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Pub crawl: The president and prime minister watched a Russia-Argentina soccer match on TV at a bar in Sochi on Aug. 12. Putin had a beer while Medvedev stuck with tea.

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Close at hand: Putin shares some words with Medvedev during a nighttime walk along the seafront in Sochi on Aug. 12.

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The fun in Sochi continued two days later on Aug. 14 as the two men -- along with an unidentified canine companion -- toured the presidential compound in an electric buggy …

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… and played a friendly game of badminton.

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Tight: The two appear to be tight friends as they chat by the water in Sochi on Aug. 14

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Sitting pretty: Putin and Medvedev enjoy tea as they relax in Sochi on Aug. 14.

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Behind the smiles, the unique political experiment seems to be heading for a moment of truth. Putin, whose political capital is still far greater than that of his official boss, hasn't ruled out a return to the presidency, which would be allowed under Russia's Constitution. Medvedev, who increasingly seems to have his own ideas about how to manage Russia's economy and state bureaucracy, is also noncommittal, saying "I don't exclude anything." Can the partnership survive?

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