(by Eli Lake, March 3, 2008, NYSun.com) – Vladimir Putin’s handpicked successor will accede to the Russian presidency during perhaps the tensest period of post-Cold War relations between Moscow and Washington.
Yesterday evening, as the votes came in for Dmitry Medvedev, the president-to-be stood at a rally with Mr. Putin in Moscow and exclaimed, “Together we will go further, together we will triumph, hurrah!” Mr. Medvedev told reporters that his administration’s approach would be a “continuation” of Mr. Putin’s policies. “I think that it will be a direct continuation of that path which is being carried out by President Putin,” he said.
That is no surprise: Mr. Medvedev, a 42-year-old Leningrad State University-trained lawyer, has worked with Mr. Putin for the last 17 years. Mr. Medvedev was Mr. Putin’s choice to head the board of the state energy monopoly, Gazprom, served as his chief of staff, and was chosen as a first deputy prime minister.
For the West, yesterday’s result means a new face on increasingly worrisome policies. Under Mr. Putin, who is expected to retain influence as prime minister, Russia has proved to be a spoiler at times for American-led diplomacy with Iran, aimed at punishing the Islamic Republic for its enrichment of uranium in the face of soon three U.N. Security Council resolutions. While Moscow has voted for the last two resolutions and is expected to vote for a third today, it has delayed the Security Council votes and weakened the U.N. sanctions.
Mr. Putin also has been outspoken in the last six months on the expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization [NATO] and the prospect of missile defense for the Czech Republic, Poland, and Ukraine. Tensions boiled over on February 12, when Mr. Putin warned Ukraine that Russia would point its missiles toward Kiev if the country joined NATO and allowed America to deploy a missile defense shield there.
Mr. Medvedev himself has been hostile to Ukraine, threatening this week in his role as chairman of Gazprom to reduce gas shipments to the former Soviet republic if a debt dispute is not resolved. Last week, he made a high-profile visit to Belgrade, days after top Serbian government officials stoked widespread protests and riots against the American Embassy in retaliation for America’s recognition of the independence of Kosovo.
Mr. Putin’s remarks last month about Ukraine drew sharp protests from Washington; Secretary of State Rice called them unacceptable. But neither President Bush nor Ms. Rice has been quick to criticize Mr. Putin publicly, or for that matter to say much of anything about the elections won yesterday by Mr. Medvedev.
Asked yesterday for a comment on the vote, a spokesman for the State Department, Robert McInturff, said: “We’ve obviously seen the elections have happened. We will have further comment Monday after the process has finished.” Earlier this week, when Mr. Bush was asked about the elections, he wondered aloud whether the new Russian president would control foreign policy and who would represent Moscow at the upcoming GÃ¢â‚¬â€œ8 summit.
The Bush White House and State Department have kept mum on whether the vote yesterday met international standards for elections. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe boycotted the vote yesterday, citing restrictions on political participation. Potential challengers to Mr. Medvedev, including the chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov and a former prime minister, Mikhail Kasyanov, were disqualified last year from running for the office. And Mr. Medvedev was given disproportionate coverage from Russia’s state-controlled television stations. Perhaps the clearest signal that the election was not contested came last month, when Mr. Medvedev’s three challengers debated and Mr. Medvedev decided not to show up.
The vice president for policy at the American Foreign Policy Council, Ilan Berman, said he expects a continuation between Mr. Medvedev’s and Mr. Putin’s government policies. “I think Medvedev is on the surface is a kinder and gentler face,” he said. “But it is useful to remember that he rose to the top and fought back all number of challengers in the last few years. That really tells you something. He is a savvy political player and he has a disciplined and iron-willed personality. The other thing it tells you is Russian politics has been all Putin, all the time. Medvedev’s selection tells you the domestic and foreign policy will not change much. If they do, it won’t be in spite of Putin but because of him.”
Reprinted here with permission from The New York Sun. Visit the website at NYSun.com.
1. a) Who was elected president of Russia yesterday?
b) What did Mr. Medvedev say that shows he will continue to implement President Vladimir Putin’s policies?
c) What relationship has Mr. Medvedev had with President Putin?
2. Under the Russian constitution, the president is only permitted to serve 2 consecutive terms. How will Mr. Putin continue his influence in the Russian government?
3. a) How has President Putin hindered U.S. efforts to stop Iran’s nuclear weapons program?
b) In what other way has President Putin worked against U.S. interests?
4. What did Mr. Medvedev do that showed his support of President Putin’s position on Ukraine?
5. a) Why did the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) boycott the Russian presidential election?
b) What does this tell you about the election?
6. Re-read the statements made by Ilan Berman in paragraph 10. Who will be the real head of state, according to Mr. Berman?
THE GOVERNMENT OF RUSSIA
According to the Constitution, which was adopted…in 1993 … Russia is a federation and a presidential republic, wherein the President of Russia is the head of state and the Prime Minister of Russia is the head of government. Executive power is exercised by the government. Legislative power is vested in both the government and the two chambers of the Federal Assembly of Russia.
The president is elected by popular vote for a four-year term (eligible for a second term but constitutionally barred for a third consecutive term)… Ministries of the government are composed of the [prime minister] and his deputies, ministers, and selected other individuals; all are appointed by the president. The national legislature is the Federal Assembly, which consists of two chambers; the 450-member State Duma] and the 176-member Federation Council. … Leading political parties in Russia include United Russia, the Communist Party, the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia and Fair Russia.
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