Medvedev to Oversee Foreign Policy

MT
Dmitry Medvedev said Monday that he would oversee foreign policy as president and that he would work closely with his future prime minister, Vladimir Putin, to form the next government.

Medvedev was dubbed the "undisputed leader and winner" of Sunday's presidential election by the head of the Central Elections Commission after he garnered 70.24 percent of the vote with over 99 percent of ballots counted.

The commission expects to certify Medvedev's victory on Thursday after the last ballots trickle in from overseas, commission chief Vladimir Churov told reporters Monday morning.

Meanwhile, Western leaders including U.S. President George W. Bush said they were looking forward to working with Medvedev -- a sign that his victory was being seen as legitimate despite concerns about the overall fairness of the process.

Medvedev said at a news conference at 1 a.m. Monday that, according to the Constitution, foreign policy is the purview of the president.

His remarks hinted that he would continue along the foreign policy path blazed by Putin, who has clashed with the West on issues like human rights, independence for Kosovo and U.S. missile defense.

"I believe we should lead an independent foreign policy, the kind that has been followed for the past eight years, whose main priority is the defense of Russian interests on all fronts, by all possible means," Medvedev said.

"Naturally, within the limits of existing international law," he added. Medvedev also said his first trip abroad would be to a CIS country.

The president-elect appeared at the late-night news conference alone. Two hours earlier, he had given a short speech on Red Square flanked by Putin, the popular outgoing president whose blessing propelled Medvedev to victory.

But Putin, whose presidency officially ends in May, was often mentioned in reporters' questions and Medvedev's answers.

Medvedev promised a stable transfer of power, stressing that he and Putin had "a comradely partnership, based on the fact that we have worked together for a long time and trust each other."

The two men will work closely to determine the makeup of the next government, he said. Medvedev declined to say who would be chosen as head of the presidential administration, one of the country's most powerful jobs.

When asked by a BBC reporter whether Putin would keep an office in the Kremlin, Medvedev said the prime minister's office was in the White House.

On a more personal note, Medvedev admitted that he had been worried during the vote on Sunday.

"This was probably one of the most emotionally complex days of my life," he said.

With the tally almost complete, it is clear that he had little to worry about.

With 99.75 percent of ballots counted, he had a whopping 70.24 percent of the vote, while Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov trailed at 17.75 percent, Liberal Democratic Party leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky had 9.36 percent and long-shot candidate Andrei Bogdanov trailed the pack with 1.3 percent, the elections commission said Monday.

While impressive, Medvedev's 70.24 percent falls short of Putin's commanding 71.31 percent in the 2004 presidential vote, when he was elected to a second term.

Thanks to high turnout, however, Medvedev did manage to beat his mentor in terms of total votes received. He got 52 million votes, topping the 49.6 million for Putin in 2004.

Nationwide voter turnout was 69.65 percent on Sunday, the commission said. The turnout four years ago was 64.39 percent.

One curiosity of the vote tallies involved the number of votes for Andrei Bogdanov, leader of the tiny Democratic Party. The commission said Bogdanov got about 960,000 votes -- less than half the number of signatures he submitted to the commission in January to be registered as a candidate.

Bogdanov successfully submitted 2 million signatures to be registered. Many analysts viewed his candidacy as a Kremlin project to splinter the democratic opposition.

Western leaders welcomed the prospect of a Medvedev presidency, if cautiously.

The White House said it was ready to work with Medvedev on areas of common interest between the United States and Russia.

"Dmitry Medvedev was elected president of Russia yesterday," Bush spokesman Gordon Johndroe said, Reuters reported. "The United States looks forward to working with him."

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown congratulated Medvedev on his victory, but stopped short of inviting him to London -- a sign that British-Russian relations continue to be strained.

"We will judge the new government on its actions and the result of its actions," said Michael Ellam, a spokesman for Brown, The Associated Press reported.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso congratulated Medvedev in a statement posted on his web site.

Barroso expressed hope that the EU-Russia partnership would continue to develop "based not only on common interests, but also on respect for the values to which we both declared our commitment."

A spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she looked forward to working with Medvedev, but he also criticized the election.

"Without question, during the election campaign there were incidents and situations that showed democratic and constitutional principles were not followed throughout," Thomas Steg said at a news conference in Berlin, Reuters reported.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy congratulated Medvedev in a phone call and invited him to France, according to a statement on Sarkozy's official web site.

His foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, noted that Russians had clearly endorsed Medvedev despite the predictability of the election campaign.

"Even though I know there wasn't any real competition in this election, I think it is undeniable that Russia has voted very clearly and with figures that are very astonishing," Kouchner said in a radio interview, Reuters reported.

Medvedev was also congratulated by Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica and by the leaders of some former Soviet republics.

Back at home, Putin also offered congratulations and said the election had been conducted lawfully. The remarks, made at a Cabinet meeting, led the Channel One 6 p.m. newscast Monday.

Medvedev was featured only in the second news item -- at a meeting with Putin.

NTV and Rossia led with the election results and Medvedev's dramatic joint appearance with Putin at a Red Square rock concert the previous evening.

Meanwhile, Kommersant led with the alarming headline "The Election Brought Some Bloodshed" and a photograph of burned-out cars. On closer examination, though, it turned out that the story was about the aftermath of the Armenian election, while the results of the Russian vote were buried on page 3.

It was reminiscent of Kommersant's front page from Dec. 8, 2003, when the newspaper led with a Vitaly Klitschko boxing match while most Russian papers focused on United Russia's sweeping victory in the State Duma elections.

Kommersant editor in chief Andrei Vasilyev could not be reached for comment Monday.