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Last Updated: Tuesday, 4 March 2008, 22:15 GMT
European press hedges bets on Medvedev
Dmitry Medvedev
Mr Medvedev, Vladimir Putin's personally endorsed successor

The press in Russia's European neighbours is careful in its judgment of the new president in the Kremlin, Dmitry Medvedev.

Almost all commentators condemn Mr Medvedev's landslide win on Sunday as a stage-managed ritual which offered Russians little choice, but there is less unity on what lies ahead.

Some believe Mr Medvedev's predecessor and mentor, Vladimir Putin, will continue to pull the strings, while others think it possible that the new man in the Kremlin can plot his own, more liberal and less hardline, course.

No surprises

In Russia's neighbour, Ukraine, whose pro-Western government has had fraught relations with Mr Putin, cynicism about the fairness of Sunday's presidential election predominates.

"Election KGB-style: A lottery scam or a matrix?" and "Voting in Russia: Violations beyond number" were the headlines in the Ukrainian tabloid Vecherniye Vesti, which is linked to the pro-Western Prime Minister, Yuliya Tymoshenko.

Another tabloid, Gazeta Po-Kiyevski takes a similar line, caustically noting "Medvedev is president - Surprise, surprise".

A business broadsheet, Delo, compares Medvedev's 70% share of the vote to the results achieved by the leaders of the more authoritarian post-Soviet countries.

"With this outcome, the freshly baked Russian president has confidently joined the company of well-known 'people's favourites': Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, Uzbek President Islam Karimov and Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow".

But the Russian-language paper Segodnya has a positive view of the new Putin-Medvedev axis, praising Mr Putin as the man who achieved the task of creating a "united Russia".

"His successor needs to solve the next task - to make Russia a successful and comfortable country with efficient governance, a country where order will rule, which will be capable of defending the right to use its natural wealth and conduct a sovereign policy, if need be," the paper adds.

No change

In Georgia, which also has strained relations with Mr Putin's Russia, a pundit interviewed by the daily Rezonansi believes Mr Medvedev will merely follow his predecessor's orders.

"Nothing has changed in Russia. Putin remains the leader... [He] has changed nothing but his title."

He also dismisses the new president's perceived liberalism as "fabrication".

"He has been Putin's loyal co-worker for eight years. Why do we think that he will suddenly stand up and say that he will no longer listen to Putin?!"

Scepticism

A commentator writing in Germany's Sueddeutsche Zeitung warns that underlying economic problems could destroy the new power structure.

"People only agreed to have President Medvedev imposed on them in the hope that he will continue the strong economic growth.

"If the economy collapses, the weather could quickly turn bad for Putin's crown prince."

But Mr Medvedev should still be given the benefit of the doubt, a commentary in Die Welt believes.

"There are more than enough grounds for scepticism about Russia's future from the West's point of view, but the West should first of all regard the change of leadership as a chance to improve its badly strained relations with Russia."

No hero

In Poland, an editorial in the centre-right Dziennik also thinks that, while Sunday's ballot "is hard to call an election", Mr Medvedev should not be viewed with fear.

According to the paper, he was chosen because Russia "needs an efficient administrator that will drag it out of the trap of the third-world structure of its economy" rather than any "hero threatening the world with missiles".

An editorial in another centre-right paper, Rzeczpospolita, is even more positive, describing Mr Medvedev as a "liberal politician by Russia's standards".

Poland, it adds, should support the new president as hope for reform in Russia, if only to prevent him from "starting to threaten with atomic bombs" later.

'Open mind'

A commentator writing In France's centre-right Le Figaro also looks on the bright side.

"A lawyer by training and comfortable in business circles, [Mr Medvedev] has the advantage of representing a new generation of Russians who are open to the world."

The paper adds that Russian leaders initially viewed as "transitional" have in fact often turned out to be "jolly good heads of state". "This was true of Putin and of Gorbachev as well."

A columnist in Les Echos believes there is at least half a chance that Mr Medvedev will escape Mr Putin's influence and emerge as a leader in his own right.

"To the most pessimistic, the new Russian president is a new-type Gorbachev" without the "influence that only the apparatchiks have in order to orchestrate reforms," he says.

"The most optimistic are banking on his youth and an open mind... to deliver a real Russian renaissance."

BBC Monitoring selects and translates news from radio, television, press, news agencies and the internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages. It is based in Caversham, UK, and has several bureaux abroad.



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