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Archive for Monday, March 3, 2008

Russia begins new course with Putin still near helm

March 3, 2008

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— As Russia's next president, Dmitry Medvedev appears set to play good cop to Vladimir Putin's bad cop.

Medvedev scored a crushing victory in Russia's presidential elections Sunday, taking 69 percent of the vote with ballots from two-thirds of the polling stations counted. His victory was never in serious doubt once Putin backed him in December.

The youthful lawyer has suggested he will ease some of the repressive measures used to roll back democracy under his predecessor, and seems likely to present a friendlier face to the West.

But Putin, the stern former KGB officer who has ruled Russia for the past eight years, is expected to remain by his side as prime minister - and quite possibly still calling the shots.

Medvedev's main job will be to "rebrand" Russia, especially for foreign investors, said Chris Weafer, chief strategist at UralSib investment bank.

"He will try to change the perception of Russia from a corrupt, inefficient country lacking legal protections to a country more open for business," Weafer said.

The question is how mentor and protege will share power and whether Medvedev's rise indicates a fundamental shift in the Kremlin game plan, or is simply a public relations move.

Some believe that Putin could serve as the president's senior adviser with strong influence over policy - reminiscent of the role played by Vice President Dick Cheney in the administration of President Bush.

It is possible that Putin himself does not yet know how his role will evolve. In the coming months and possibly years, how he and Medvedev share power will be closely watched for signs of where Russia is heading.

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