Medvedev wins Russia's presidential elections by landslide

Putin prot?g? gets 69 percent of the public's support with two-thirds of the votes counted.

Dmitry Medvedev 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Dmitry Medvedev 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Dmitry Medvedev, the man Vladimir Putin hand-picked to be his successor, scored a crushing victory in Russia's presidential elections Sunday, a result that was long anticipated but that still raises questions about who will run this resurgent global power. Medvedev has not yet achieved the stature of the current president, and is expected to rule in concert with his mentor, an arrangement that could see Putin calling the shots despite his constitutionally subordinate position as Russia's prime minister. But the scope of Medvedev's victory - he had 69 percent of the vote with tallies from two-thirds of the polling stations counted - immediately raises the president-elect's stature. For all of its lack of suspense, the world closely followed Russia's leadership contest for signs of how this sprawling nation, with its immense oil and gas reserves, will engage with global rivals and partners at a time of rising commodities prices. Most Russians expect the mild-mannered, 42-year-old Medvedev to follow Putin's lead, perhaps even allowing his mentor to rule from behind the scenes. Although Medvedev has presented himself as a liberal, he has also been one of the key implementers of Putin's drive to give the Kremlin a near monopoly on political power in Russia. In the coming weeks and months, analysts will be looking for signals of changes in Kremlin policy under Medvedev, who in his rhetoric at least has presented a more democratic, Western-leaning face to the world than Putin. At a news conference early Monday, Medvedev was asked who would run foreign affairs - him or the prime minister. "Under the constitution, the president determines foreign policy," he said. Medvedev ran against three rivals apparently permitted on the ballot because of their loyalty to the Kremlin line. But the two candidates - Communist Party chief Gennady Zyuganov and ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky - still alleged violations after the voting ended. Zyuganov, Medvedev's nearest challenger with 18 percent in the incomplete results, said he would dispute the result. Zhirinovsky threatened to do so as well, before backing down. As a key implementer of Putin's polices, Medvedev is seen as unlikely to alter Putin's assertive stance with the West, reduce state control over Russia's mineral riches or allow more real opposition movements to flourish. The 70 percent Medvedev is likely to win is about the same as Putin's tally when he won re-election in 2004 - raising the possibility of a potential rivalry. "Our candidate, Dmitry Anatolyevich Medvedev, has taken a firm lead," Putin said late Sunday, appearing alongside his protégé at a celebration at the Red Square outside the Kremlin. "I'm congratulating Dmitry Anatolyevich and I wish him success," Putin said. "Such a victory carries a lot of obligations. This victory will serve as a guarantee that the course we have chosen, the successful course we have been following over the past eight years, will be continued." Medvedev thanked voters and vowed to pursue Putin's policies. "We will increase stability, improve the quality of life and move forward on the path we have chosen," Medvedev said. "We will be able to preserve the course of President Putin." That teacher-pupil relationship will be tested immediately after Medvedev's inauguration. Medvedev has said he would propose making Putin his prime minister, and Putin has said he would agree. But in Russia, the premier wields significantly less power than the president, and Putin may find his new chair narrow and confining. After eight years in the international limelight, Putin may also miss the job of representing Russia in gatherings of world leaders. The first test could be the July summit of Group of Eight leading industrialized nations: If Putin goes alone or accompanies Medvedev, that could signal his reluctance to relinquish control. Putin has already shown signs of discomfort with his new role as subordinate to his protégé. When asked at his last news conference in February whether he would put the new president's portrait on his office wall, Putin answered dryly that he doesn't need to make such displays of loyalty. Some officials who know Medvedev say privately that he is tougher than his appearance and demeanor may suggest and could show more resolve after his inauguration. While most expect Medvedev to play second fiddle to Putin, the vast powers of the Russian presidency may tempt him to step out of his mentor's shadow. But Medvedev's election was not a wide-open contest either. Liberal opposition leaders Garry Kasparov and Mikhail Kasyanov were barred from running on technicalities, and voters across Russia say they were being urged, cajoled and pressured to vote in an effort to ensure that Medvedev scored a major victory. Kasparov held his own protest against the election Sunday near Red Square. Escorted by a dozen riot police, he carried a plastic shopping bag that read: "I am not participating in this farce."