Is Medvedev his own man?

Many people believe Putin will continue to guide Russia after Sunday's election.

     Huge posters all around Moscow depict Putin and Medvedev's association [EPA]

    On the Arbat, a street in central Moscow dominated by stall after stall selling traditional matryoshka dolls,
    shopkeepers are doing a brisk trade in those featuring Dmitry Medvedev, the man that everyone is certain will be Russia's next president.
    "Medvedev dolls have been selling well, they are our most popular. Everybody is buying them, Russian people and
    tourists, everybody," one stallholder, Valentina, told Al Jazeera.

    "People understand that his success is ensured - crazy Zhirinovsky [the candidate for the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia] and the communists are not for us."

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    The softly-spoken lawyer was picked by Vladimir Putin, the outgoing president who is banned by the constitution from running for a third consecutive term, to succeed him.

    Putin has said that he will accept the post of prime minister if his friend becomes president and many commentators are convinced that the he will continue to be the hand that guides Russia's course.

    The two men have been linked for many years.

    Medvedev and Putin both took law classes taught by Anatoly Sobchak at Leningrad State University, although more than a decade apart.

    When Sobchak later became mayor of St Petersburg he brought the two men together in the city hall.

    Strong bonding

    Putin brought Medvedev to Moscow in 1999 when he was appointed prime minister by Boris Yeltsin, then Russia's president, and he has been one of his most trusted lieutenants ever since.

    During his campaign Medvedev has made a virtue of his plans to maintain the status quo.

    "I will feel obliged to continue the course which has proven its efficiency over the past eight years, the course of President Putin," he told voters in Nizhny Novgorod on Wednesday.

    Nikolai Petrov, a scholar-in-residence at the Carnegie Institute in Moscow, said it would be difficult for Medvedev to detach himself from Putin even he wanted to.

    "I doubt that there are any plans to do something different from Putin, but even if there are, it is unlikely that he will be able to implement them because of pressure from Putin's supporters," he said.

    Mirror image

    Inside the Kremlin, Medvedev aligned himself with a group often described as the St Petersburg lawyers or technocrats.

    They are said to have a more liberal view on the state's role in the economy, foreign policy and civil liberties than the siloviki, the group of former security service officials.

    Medvedev is Putin's close associate [EPA]
    But with little experience in foreign affairs, Petrov said that Medvedev might see Putin continue to take the lead.

    "If Putin becomes prime minister he might accompany him or even replace him on behalf of Russia at major foreign events such the G8 summit because of his experience," Petrov said.

    "There does not seem must chance of the liberalisation of foreign policy, at best it will be the same."
    However, it also appears that his links with Putin are what will make ordinary Russian turn out for an election that
    is barely being contested.

    "Here is our next president," Evgenya Antropova said, pointing to a huge poster showing Medvedev alongside the outgoing president.

    "He will follow Putin's policies and that's why people will vote for him." 

    Andrei Kiyashkov, looking up at the same poster, said: "Things will not change because Putin appointed the next president."

    The latest opinion poll survey by the Moscow-based Yuri Levada Analytical Centre showed Putin's man crushing his three rivals with 80 per cent of the vote.

    "The fact that Medvedev will easily get the win does not mean people trust him, it means that Putin has a credit of trust," Petrov said.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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