Putin Backs Medvedev as Next President

APPresident Vladimir Putin and First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev heading for a Kremlin meeting in 2006.
President Vladimir Putin said Monday that he backed Dmitry Medvedev, his soft-spoken first deputy prime minister, as the next president, signaling an end to an era of escalating international tensions over an increasingly hawkish Kremlin.

The announcement, made at a Kremlin meeting attended by Medvedev and leaders from four Putin-friendly parties, should also end years of speculation over who will succeed Putin. Given Putin's enormous popularity, his preferred successor is likely to win the presidential election on March 2.

Medvedev's candidacy was welcomed by foreign investors, who see him as the most liberal person in Putin's inner circle. But opposition politicians scorned Medvedev as a weak figure who would allow Putin to continue to hold the reins.

By endorsing Medvedev -- a 42-year-old lawyer with a strong academic background and the chairman of Gazprom -- Putin is seeking to pass the torch to a younger generation that does not have ties to the siloviki, the Soviet-era military and intelligence officials whose hawkish stance has inflamed tensions with the West over the past eight years, political analysts said.

Putin has opted to avoid an escalation of confrontation with foreign countries, which would have happened if he had supported a siloviki contender such as Sergei Ivanov, a first deputy prime minister, said Lilia Shevtsova, an analyst with the Carnegie Moscow Center.

Stanislav Belkovsky, a former Kremlin spin doctor, agreed and predicted that Putin would try to use Medvedev's reputation as a liberal to sell his candidacy to the West.

Officially, Medvedev's nomination was announced by United Russia leader Boris Gryzlov at the Kremlin meeting. Gryzlov told Putin that the party had decided to nominate Medvedev as its presidential candidate at a convention on Monday, and Putin said he endorsed the decision.

"Speaking of Dmitry Anatolyevich Medvedev as a candidate, I must say that I have known him for more than 17 years. We have worked closely through all of these years, and I completely and fully support this choice," Putin said in televised remarks in his ornate office.















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Dmitry Anatolyevich Medvedev


Born: Sept. 14, 1965


Place of Birth: St. Petersburg


Education: Leningrad State University, degree in law, 1987; doctorate in law, 1990.


Advantages: Close to Putin and his St. Petersburg circle; reputation of being a liberal intellectual; embraced by foreign investors; has refrained from hawkish foreign policy remarks.


Disadvantages: No proven record of being effective civil servant because the outcome of the national projects being supervised by him have yet to materialize; lacks ability to motivate subordinates; not popular among the siloviki.


Notable Quotes: "Democracy and national sovereignty need to be together.

But one should not overwhelm the other." Interview with Expert magazine, July 2006.


"I was not born a boss, right? I always liked what I did, in the Kremlin administration and now in the White House." Interview with Itogi magazine, April 2007.


"I would like very much for Gazprom to become the most expensive company in the world." Interview with Vedomosti, July 5, 2007.



There was little question, however, that the decision had come from Putin himself. United Russia has a record of consistently following the president's lead.

The meeting was also attended by the leaders of three other parties, A Just Russia, the Agrarian Party and Civil Force, and they said they supported Medvedev. He is not a member of any political party.

Gryzlov said the priority of the next president should be to improve social conditions and that Medvedev was the right man to lead the effort.

"We believe that he is the most socially oriented candidate and has demonstrated his abilities well in leading the national projects and the demographic program," Gryzlov said, referring to Medvedev's efforts to improve education, health care, housing and agriculture and to tackle a national demographic crisis.

Medvedev was shown at the meeting as stern-faced, his eyes fixed on a relaxed and smiling Putin. He told Putin that he had held "positive" consultations with United Russia that would continue over the next two days.

Putin gave no indication about what he might do after he leaves office. But he promised that Medvedev would "follow the course that has brought results for all of these past eight years."

Viktor Ilyukhin, a senior Communist official, said the worst problem was that the country needed a new course and that Medvedev was "the worst option."

"Medvedev is insecure, weak. Putin can have full control of him," he said.

The Communists plan to back their leader, Gennady Zyuganov, in the election.

Eduard Limonov, founder of the banned National Bolshevik Party, agreed that Medvedev was not his own man, saying: "Ivanov is called Putin's best friend, while Medvedev is called Putin's son. Putin will always be behind his back telling him what to do."

Boris Nemtsov, a leader of the Union of Right Forces, and Alexei Melnikov, a senior Yabloko official, said voters, not Putin, should choose the next president. "We are against the so-called Operation Successor," said Nemtsov, who has announced plans to run for president. "Putin thinks that Russians are stupid people and that he can do whatever he wants with them."

Speculation that Putin might try to return to the presidency one day is given credence by Monday's announcement, said Vladimir Ryzhkov, a liberal politician who lost his State Duma seat in the recent elections.

"The strategy is as follows: Medvedev is a compromise choice because he will allow Putin to keep a free hand. If Putin wants to gradually leave power, Medvedev guarantees him comfort and security and will continue to listen him," Ryzhkov said on Ekho Moskvy radio. "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."

Garry Kasparov, a leader of The Other Russia, said Putin chose the weakest candidate to support a balance of power. "Putin's backing of Medvedev is the result of a fight between various groups inside the Kremlin. Medvedev's nomination means the defeat of Igor Sechin's group," Kasparov said. Sechin, Putin's powerful deputy chief of staff, is believed to be the head of the siloviki.

An aide to Ivanov said Ivanov was in the Kremlin at the time of Monday's announcement. He said he was not aware of Ivanov's reaction but was not disappointed himself. "They made a decision, and that's good. We just did our job. We didn't promote anybody," said the aide, who has helped boost Ivanov's public profile as handler of his media coverage.

A senior Central Elections Commission official predicted that Medvedev would not win in the first round of voting, despite Putin's popularity.

"Putin, who is called the father of the nation and has become something of a demigod, cannot be replaced easily," the official said. "There will be a second round of the election."

Medvedev has led opinion polls as the most popular politician after Putin for months, thanks largely to the coverage of his activities on state television.

His star dipped, however, after Putin appointed an old ally, Viktor Zubkov, as prime minister in September and then aggressively campaigned for United Russia ahead of the Duma elections.

Staff Writer Anna Smolchenko contributed to this report.

An in-depth profile of Medvedev can be found on The Moscow Times web site at www.themoscowtimes.com/doc/special_reports.html