Wednesday, December 12, 2007

We'll Be Dealing With Both Of Them For Awhile

Vladimir Putin rejects hardliners to anoint Dmitri Medvedev as heir to Kremlin throne

He would be the youngest Kremlin leader since Tsar Nicholas II and the first without ties either to the military or to Russia’s feared secret police.
Dmitri Medvedev was anointed yesterday by Vladimir Putin to succeed him as President in a carefully choreographed announcement that demonstrated Mr Putin’sgrip on power and completely wrong-footed Kremlin-watchers.
“I have known him for more than 17 years, I have worked with him closely all these years and I completely and fully support this candidacy,” Mr Putin declared on state television.
Mr Medvedev, 42, who is Russia’s first deputy prime minister, had long been seen as Mr Putin’s prot駩 and heir apparent after he was summoned from St Petersburg to work in the Kremlin. His star had faded in the past year as his hawkish rival Sergei Ivanov, who shares Mr Putin’s KGB background, became increasingly dominant.
Russia’s stock market reached a record high after the announcement. The endorsement of Mr Medvedev all but settles the presidential contest before it has even begun, despite repeated assurances from Mr Putin that there would be no handpicked successor and that voters should have a choice of qualified candidates in the election in March.
Mr Putin, 55, underlined the inevitable success of his choice by allowing it to appear that four political parties had asked him to support Mr Medvedev’s candidacy. They included the pro-Putin United Russia and Fair Russia, which took 72 per cent of votes between them in the parliamentary elections last week.
His endorsement is critical because opinion polls have consistently shown that as many as half of voters would back whoever he chose to succeed him. The full resources of the Kremlin machine will now be used to deliver massive public support for Mr Medvedev, while crushing any opposition challenge.
Mr Medvedev will be endorsed as Mr Putin’s successor at a congress of United Russia on Monday. The party, which is little more than a tool for the President to control the legislature, had been expected to select a candidate then, but Mr Putin was clearly unwilling to leave even an impression that the decision had been in anyone’s hands but his.
Mr Medvedev’s selection threw calculations about Mr Putin’s own future into disarray, however. He cannot stand for a third consecutive term, but the emergence in September of Viktor Zubkov, 66, as Prime Minister had been seen as a device for Mr Putin to get around the constitutional ban by supporting an elderly placeman for a few months before returning as Kremlin leader.
Mr Medvedev, however, is younger than Mr Putin was when he became president in 2000. A successful first term would give him every expectation of a second, by the end of which Mr Putin would be 63.
Mr Medvedev comes from the Kremlin’s liberal wing and Mr Putin’s support signals a clear defeat for the hard-line military and former KGB faction, the so-called “siloviki”, that backed Mr Ivanov.
It suggests that Mr Putin trusts nobody but himself to keep the balance of power between the rival factions, possibly as the next head of Russia’s national security council.
Mr Medvedev, who trusts his mentor completely, would present a moderate, civilian image to the world as president, while focusing on improving the quality of life at home. Mr Putin would retain control over security issues to pacify the “siloviki”, while dispensing fatherly advice to his young successor as an elder statesman.
The nomination wrong-footed critics of Mr Putin. The liberal candidate Boris Nemtsov called it “humiliating for the people, when the authorities determine who needs to be supported”.
Gleb Pavlovsky, a political analyst linked to the Kremlin, acknowledged that it was “a prepared decision” and ruled out any challenges from within Mr Putin’s circle. He said: “A member of the Putin team will hardly suggest himself as an alternative to the candidate supported by Putin.”
Some critics refused to rule out the prospect of Mr Putin returning. Vladimir Ryzhkov, a liberal politician, said: “If Putin wants to gradually leave power, Medvedev guarantees him comfort and security and will continue to listen to him. If Putin wants to return in two, three years . . . Medvedev will be the person who will without a doubt give up the path for him.”
— Dmitri Medvedev, 42, owes his political career to Mr Putin, who has demonstrated an almost paternal interest in him
— His emergence will please the West, which had grown fearful of Mr Putin’s increasingly bellicose rhetoric. He has described his outlook on foreign policy as “European”
— He charmed world leaders and business titans at this year’s annual gathering at Davos, telling them: “We are well aware that no non-democratic state has ever become truly prosperous for one simple reason: freedom is better than non-freedom”
— The only child of two Russian academics, he graduated from the same law faculty in St Petersburg as Mr Putin, but did not follow his path into the KGB. He became a lawyer and academic.
— He and Mr Putin worked in the administration of Anatoly Sobchak, St Petersburg’s liberal mayor, in the 1990s. Mr Putin has described how he picked out Mr Medvedev to be his legal adviser
— He made Mr Medvedev his chief of staff when he became Prime Minister in 1999, then raised him to the same post in the Kremlin in 2003 as president
— Mr Putin created the post of first deputy prime minister for Mr Medvedev in 2005, which was widely seen as a sign that his successor had been chosen
— The impression was strengthened when he took charge of the key “national projects” to improve housing, agriculture, education and health. His role as chairman of the board at the energy giant Gazprom only strengthened his hand

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