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Last Updated: Monday, 3 March 2008, 17:29 GMT
Russia: World watching for any change
By Paul Reynolds
World affairs correspondent, BBC News website

Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev after election victory
Who will speak for Russia? Putin and Medvedev on election night

The world will be watching the new Russian President-elect Dmitry Medvedev for any signs of change in Russia's foreign and domestic policy when he takes over in May - without expecting much significant movement.

Mr Medvedev might not share Mr Putin's KGB background, but he was personally endorsed by President Putin in advance, Mr Putin was chosen as prime minister in advance and will have the chance of running again for president in 2012.

The only reason Mr Putin is standing down as president now is that Article 81 of the Russian constitution prevents someone from being president more than two terms in a row.

It is possible therefore that this will be an interregnum, with Vladimir Putin playing a guiding, possibly a determining role, and waiting for his next shot at the top job.

'More of the same'

"I expect more of the same," said Margot Light of the London School of Economics.

"I don't think that Putin would have selected Medvedev if he thought there would be change. I am not convinced by the effort to portray Medvedev as a liberal. He would not have got this far if he was.

"He has, for example accused the British Council [several of whose offices the Russians have closed] of being "spies".

It is true that Medvedev is the first Russian president not to have been in the communist party or the KGB - but it is unclear as to whether he will emerge from the Putin shadow
Tim Whewell
Former BBC Moscow correspondent
"Putin could also engineer a shift of power to the prime minister. Recently he published an economic and political programme for the next 12 years that would move power from the presidency.

"The key word in the document is 'innovation'. Putin wants to diversify the Russian economy, ending the dependence on energy. This is not a bad thing but the decisions will be in the hands of the government and that means Putin.

"As for foreign policy, the position that Russia takes its own line is popular at home and this will probably continue, though there will be an element of good cop-bad cop between the two."

'Paranoia'

A recent BBC radio series has given some illuminating insights into the mindset of the Kremlin leadership.

In Dancing with the Russian Bear, former BBC Moscow correspondent Tim Whewell concluded that in late 2004, after the victory of Viktor Yushchenko in the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, President Putin and his allies became determined not to let the same thing happen in Russia.

They saw a danger of internal dissent being encouraged by what they claimed to be foreign elements.

"That autumn of 2004 was a real turning point," he says. "That was the start of the nationalist youth movements and action against foreign non-governmental organisations which were regarded as subversive.

"The paranoia runs really deep.

"It is true that Medvedev is the first Russian president not to have been in the communist party or the KGB, and he did make a speech the other day praising freedom of speech and the press, but it is unclear as to whether he will emerge from the Putin shadow."

The Ukraine example

In the programme, a Kremlin adviser Gleb Pavlosky, who was active in Ukraine during the key period, said this about the Kremlin's reaction:

"Clarity appeared very quickly in Moscow. Already by the end of 2004, we understood this is what we faced in Moscow, that they would try to export this to us, that we should prepare for this situation and very quickly strengthen our political system, and make it ready for the strike from outside... so that an Orange Revolution could not happen in Russia."

This mindset helps explain not only Russian domestic policy but its sensitivity over events abroad as well, where they see a further pattern of hostility. The Russians are furious at the American anti-missile defence system, at anti-Russian sentiments in some former Soviet republics and at the decision by the US and many EU member states to recognise the separation of Kosovo from Serbia without Serbia's agreement.

If this attitude is the prevailing one, the arrival of Mr Medvedev might see some changes in tone, given his different background and personality, but not much change in the underlying policy.

The British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said it was important for Mr Medvedev to "turn a strong mandate into a strong agenda". Mr Miliband said that Russia had a self-interest in a rules-based international system and the message to Russia was: "We want you in, but when you are in, there are clear rules."

Paul.Reynolds-INTERNET@bbc.co.uk



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