(by Sergei Blagov, CNSNews.com) Moscow – As Vladimir Putin handed the Russian presidency to his handpicked successor Dmitry Medvedev on Wednesday, speculation continued about who would actually run the country.
In his inaugural remarks during a grand ceremony at the Kremlin, Medvedev pledged to promote civil and economic freedoms, and the rule of law, saying he would transform Russia into one of the best countries in the world, with the highest living standards.
He also thanked Putin for his leadership and formally asked the outgoing president to serve as his prime minister. The pliant Russian parliament is due to rubber-stamp the nomination on May 8. Putin selected Medvedev as his successor in December 2007.
As Putin left the presidential office, he also “automatically” assumed leadership of the pro-Kremlin United Russia party, which dominates the Russian parliament. Last month the party agreed that he could become its leader, without the need to obtain membership.
The unusual political maneuvering has raised speculation that Russia will have an untested system of dual governance, replacing the traditional “one man” system of leadership.
Which of the two actually wields the power remains to be seen. Medvedev has himself made it clear that he does not plan to deviate from Putin’s political and economic course, including foreign policy, stressing the importance of political “stability” and “continuity.”
During Putin’s presidency, he appointed and dismissed four prime ministers. Now, however, as leader of the dominant party and head of the cabinet he is due to assume significant power, never before available to a previous Russian prime minister.
The uncertainties have led to some confusion. Earlier this week, Russia’s Gazeta daily claimed that as Putin aims to have 11 deputies in his cabinet, real power would move from the presidential office to the prime minister and government. The Kremlin dismissed the report as unconfirmed rumor.
Nonetheless, after Putin met with leaders of parliamentary parties on Wednesday, the Communist Party head Guennady Zyuganov confirmed that Putin did plan to have more deputies as prime minister than predecessors.
Nikita Belykh, head of the right-wing SPS opposition party, said Russians should wait and see how the new political system works, predicting that disagreements between Medvedev and Putin could arise at some point. Medvedev himself had yet to come up with any original ideas, Belykh added.
Sergei Mironov, a leading politician and speaker of the Federation Council, the upper house of parliament, dismissed talk about dual leadership, attributing it to “Russia’s ill-wishers, who are wary of the great and strong Russia.”
Moscow’s foreign policy set by Putin — and which Medvedev promises to pursue, has brought tensions with the U.S. in recent years, most recently over opposition to U.S. missile defense plans for Eastern Europe, Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence from Russian ally Serbia, and moves by former Soviet states Ukraine and Georgia to join NATO.
When President Bush met Putin and Medvedev in Russia’s resort city of Sochi last month, Bush described the incoming president as a “smart fellow” and one he found “to be trustworthy.”
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1. Who is Dmitry Medvedev?
2. What did Mr. Medvedev promise to do as he takes over the leadership of Russia?
3. a) Who did Mr. Medvedev ask to be the new prime minister?
b) Why is this appointment questionable?
4. What is believed to be the possible outcome of Mr. Putin being appointed prime minister and becoming head of the United Russia party?
5. How is the opposition SPS party reacting to Mr. Putin’s new offices?
6. What aspects of Russia’s foreign policy (set by Mr. Putin, and which President Medvedev promises to pursue) have brought on tensions with the U.S. in recent years?
THE GOVERNMENT OF RUSSIA (Adapted from the U.S. State Department’s website at state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/3183.htm and wikipedia.org.)
For background information on Russia, go to the CIA World FactBook website here.