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03 Mar 2008 07:14
Russia’s next president Dmitry Medvedev pledged to uphold Vladimir Putin’s policies on Monday after a big election win that critics said was stage-managed to let the outgoing Kremlin leader keep his grip on power.
Displaying the double act that will be at the helm in Russia, Medvedev’s first public appearance after results were released was to stand side by side with his mentor Putin on stage at a victory concert in Red Square.
Medvedev (42) who will be the youngest Russian leader since Tsar Nicholas II when he is sworn in on May 7, has asked former KGB spy Putin to be his prime minister. Putin (55) was prevented by term limits from running for re-election.
But it is still not clear which of the two will really be in charge of the vast, nuclear-armed country, and analysts question if their power-sharing arrangement can last long in a nation accustomed to having a single, strong leader.
Many Russians are enjoying the benefits of the biggest economic boom in a generation—fuelled largely by oil exports—and they see Medvedev as the natural heir to Putin and the best chance of hanging on to their new-found prosperity.
Medvedev said his Presidency would be a “direct continuation” of Putin’s eight years in office—a period marked by a concentration of power in the Kremlin and a willingness to stand up to the West on foreign policy.
But the former law professor who has spent most of his working life in Putin’s shadow made clear he would not let his powerful prime minister encroach on his authority.
“The president’s main office is in the Kremlin.
The prime minister’s permanent location is the White House [government headquarters],” he told reporters at his campaign headquarters.
With nearly all the votes counted, Medvedev had just over 70% of the vote.
Kremlin opponents called Sunday’s election a one-sided farce after Medvedev won by the huge margin without even taking part in a single campaign debate.
“This is a secret service KGB operation to transfer power from one person to another,” former prime minister Mikhail Kasyanov, who was disqualified from the ballot, told Reuters.
Medvedev signalled Russia under his Presidency would not abandon its tough positions on issues such as Kosovo and Washington’s plans for a missile shield in Eastern Europe that have put Moscow at odds with the West.
“We should pursue independent foreign policies, the ones we had in the past eight years, with the main goal of protecting our national interests on all fronts by all possible means, but of course sticking to ... legal rules,” Medvedev said.
In a further sign Russia was not softening its assertive foreign policy, state-controlled gas giant Gazprom was preparing to reduce supplies to pro-Western neighbour Ukraine at 7am GMT on Monday over a debt dispute.
Kremlin officials said the fact the election was one-sided did not mean it was unfair. Election chiefs said they knew of no violations that would put the result in doubt.
Western observers monitoring the vote were expected to give an unflattering verdict later on Monday. They have already called the contest unfair because of the blanket television coverage enjoyed by Medvedev.
Civil society groups said millions of public sector workers were coerced into voting for Medvedev in Sunday’s election, some on pain of losing their jobs.
Democratic United States presidential candidate Hillary Clinton said Russia’s election “marks a milestone in that country’s retreat from democracy ... The Russian people have been denied the opportunity to choose their leaders”.
But the criticism from abroad and the small band of Kremlin opponents at home were out of step with the views held by most Russian voters.
“Russia is going through a renaissance and I want the country to continue along this path,” said Ismail Uzhakhov (53) head of a collective farm in the southern Russian region of Ingushetia.
Dmitry Anatolyevich Medvedev was born September 14 1965. His parents were teachers and he grew up in a 40 square metre flat in a suburb of Leningrad, as St Petersburg was then called.
He says his favourite childhood books were the Soviet Encyclopaedia—similar to the Encyclopaedia Britannica—and Jules Verne’s Children of Captain Grant.
“He was a leader, people listened to him. He is calm, disciplined and confident,” said Irina Grigorovskaya, his mathematics teacher at School 305, where he met his wife. “He was well read from a young age and he read a lot.”
Medvedev says the family never starved and holidayed on the Black Sea, a typical Soviet middle-class destination, but money was sometimes too short to buy the records he dreamed of.
A fan of British hard rock bands Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and Deep Purple, Medvedev said he became disillusioned with Soviet propaganda.
Medvedev was christened into the Russian Orthodox church aged 23 in St Petersburg.
Medvedev went to study law, graduating from the law department of St Petersburg University in 1987 that later became a source of the local and then Kremlin elite.
Putin graduated from the same faculty in 1975 and Anatoly Sobchak, Putin’s political mentor and later mayor of St Petersburg, taught at the faculty.
“He was one of the bright sparks from civil law,” said Nikolai Kropachev, current dean of the law faculty who worked with Medvedev in the 1990s. “If you asked him to find two solutions to a problem, he would find three, or find a solution no one had ever found before.”
Medvedev submitted a sparkling dissertation and went on to teach civil law at the faculty, where he insisted students have a good grasp of Latin.
He also worked for the external relations committee of the St Petersburg mayor’s office where he established a friendship with Putin, who was also working for the mayor after returning from a KGB posting to Dresden.
While still teaching and working at the mayor’s office, Medvedev moved into Russia’s chaotic business world.
“He started practising as a lawyer,” law faculty dean Kropachev said. “In the 1990s completely new legislation had appeared and ... there was massive demand for lawyers.”
Medvedev worked as a key lawyer for the Ilim Pulp paper firm, even helping to found the firm, though colleagues say he was never treated as an equal by the firm’s owners.
After being appointed prime minister in August 1999, Putin invited Medvedev to Moscow, appointing him deputy head of the government administration in November.
Boris Yeltsin made Putin acting president on the last day of 1999, and Putin appointed Medvedev a deputy to his chief-of-staff, Alexander Voloshin.
Medvedev worked as chief of Putin’s election campaign in March 2000. He was elected Gazprom board chairperson in June 2000 and played a key role in Putin’s plan to reassert the Kremlin’s control over the gas giant.
When Voloshin resigned in October 2003 over the arrest of Yukos owner Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Medvedev was appointed chief-of-staff, one of Russian politics’ most powerful posts.
In 2005, Putin moved Medvedev to the government, making him First Deputy Prime Minister and giving him responsibility for carrying out national projects to improve healthcare, education, housing and agriculture.
Putin announced Medvedev was his favoured candidate for president on December 10 last year. The next day Medvedev said he wanted Putin to become his prime minister. - Reuters
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