Russia’s next president Dmitry Medvedev – Russian gas giant Gazprom’s chairman – pledged to uphold Vladimir Putin’s policies today after a big election win that critics are claiming was stage-managed to let the outgoing Kremlin leader keep his grip on power.
Displaying the double act that will be at the helm in Russia, Medvedev’s first public appearance after results were released was to stand side by side with his mentor Putin on stage at a victory concert in Red Square.
Medvedev, 42, who will be the youngest Russian leader since Tsar Nicholas II when he is sworn in on 7 May, has asked Putin to be his prime minister. Putin, 55, was prevented by term limits from running for re-election.
But it is still not clear which of the two will really be in charge of the country, and analysts question if their power-sharing arrangement can last long in a nation accustomed to having a single, strong leader.
“I think (my presidency) will be a direct continuation,” said Medvedev, referring to Putin’s eight years in office – a period marked by a concentration of power in the Kremlin and a willingness to stand up to the West on foreign policy.
In a further sign Russia was not softening its assertive foreign policy, state-controlled gas giant Gazprom has cut gas supplies to pro-Western neighbour Ukraine by 25% at 0700 GMT this morning in a debt dispute.
The company said supplies to Europe would not be affected by the move.
“Gazprom is a reliable gas supplier, but we cannot and won’t supply gas without payment,” Gazprom spokesman Sergei Kupriyanov told Reuters.
He said deliveries had been reduced by 40 million cubic metres per day.
Ukraine’s state energy player Naftohaz Ukrainy confirmed that supplies had been reduced.
Earlier today Medvedev made clear he would not let his powerful prime minister encroach on his authority.
“The president’s main office is in the Kremlin. The prime minister’s permanent location is the White House (government headquarters),” he told Reuters at his campaign headquarters.
With 99.45% of the votes counted, Medvedev had 70.23%. His nearest rival, Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov, had 17.76%. Voter turnout was 69.65%, the Election Commission said.
Kremlin opponents called yesterday’s election a one-sided farce after Medvedev won by the huge margin without even taking part in a single campaign debate.
“This is a secret service KGB operation to transfer power from one person to another,” former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, who was disqualified from the ballot, told Reuters.
Kremlin officials said the fact the election was one-sided did not mean it was unfair. Election chiefs said they knew of no violations that would put the result in doubt.
Western observers monitoring the vote were expected to give an unflattering verdict later today. They have already called the contest unfair because of the blanket television coverage enjoyed by Medvedev.
Civil society groups said millions of public sector workers were coerced into voting for Medvedev, some on pain of losing their jobs.