Welcoming the new president

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The inauguration ceremony for Dmitri Medvedev, the new president of the Russian Federation, was held in Moscow on May 7. After being sworn in, Medvedev delivered his inauguration speech – emphasizing the need to reinforce the state’s law and order system and raise living standards. The Vremya Novostei newspaper quotes a Kremlin source as saying that Medvedev went over the draft speech prepared by his staff and wrote all the key points himself.

Medvedev said that human rights and liberties “are recognized as the highest value in our society, and this is what determines the meaning and content of all state activity.” He sees his most important task as “continuing to develop civil and economic liberties, and giving citizens broad new opportunities to realize their potential.” Medvedev also mentioned his trademark topic: the role played by the law and legal nihilism in Russia. He stressed that he is paying special attention to “the fundamental role of the law, which is the basis for our state and our civil society.” In Medvedev’s view, the main objective is to make Russia “one of the world’s best countries – the best in ensuring comfortable, confident, and safe living conditions for our people – this is our strategy and our orientation for the years to come.”

RIA Novosti reports that after his first official speech as head of state, Medvedev received all the attributes of the presidency: the standard, the nuclear briefcase, and the presidential jet.

What’s more, says Gazeta.ru, Medvedev now has a new home on the Web: after the inauguration, the president’s official website carried an announcement about Medvedev taking office – while the president-elect’s website, scheduled to operate until May 7, shut down. As News.ru reports, photographs of Vladimir Putin at the presidential website have been replaced by a gallery of Medvedev images; the main news item was Medvedev taking the oath of office. The site also has a brief first-person biography of the new president, compiled from his speeches and interviews.

The Vedomosti newspaper reports on the opposition’s sluggish response to the inauguration. Novosibirsk was the only place where the Communist Youth League organized some protest street theater, featuring mice – intended to “demonstrate the real level of this event” and the meaning of the inauguration. Yelisei Tambovtsev, the organization’s leader in that region, said: “We had a white mouse running along a pipe from a model of Government House to a model of the Kremlin, and a gray mouse doing the reverse.” The protest was recorded on video and clips will be distributed online.

Meanwhile, artists took a creative approach to the inauguration – not neglecting national traditions. As Radio Liberty reports, the Medvedevka exhibition has opened at the S.ART gallery in Moscow. The organizers suggested that there ought to be a new brand of vodka called Medvedevka, and fifty artists from various countries came up with label designs. They included the usual puns on President Medvedev’s name – based on the image of a bear (“medved”), which is also the United Russia party’s symbol; there were designs using Russian state symbols or old Tsarist symbols, and some more complex images: Chuk and Gek vodka with pictures of two presidents on the label, and Zaboristaya vodka with an image of the Kremlin’s walls.

Gazeta.ru reports that within hours of the inauguration, the ex-president (at that point, the carefree leader of United Russia) demonstrated his sense of humor. At a Kremlin meeting with Duma faction leaders, he used an expression which he may have omitted from the inauguration ceremony as being too casual: “Greetings to the bosses!” He added: “Everyone’s a boss, except me.”

Analysts and observers have different views on the question of who will be the boss in the Putin-Medvedev tandem. RBC Daily maintains that Putin himself has put an end to arguments over who will be in charge, by ending his speech with a statement of support for Medvedev: “I wish him luck and success as president of the Russian Federation. Let’s support him.”

RBC Daily takes the view that Putin is prepared to play the secondary role in the ruling tandem, as prime minister; but it maintains that his experience, his ability to consolidate the ruling elite, and his National Development Strategy to 2020 will ensure that the new administration is stable. This view is supported by a source from Putin’s team: “When Putin said that he’s prepared to look after Russia for the rest of his life, he meant that he is prepared to continue serving his country, regardless of which office he holds.”

RBC Daily goes on to predict that there won’t be two centers of power in Russia. “There will be a capable government, not infringing in any way on the new leader’s constitutional prerogatives,” says Dmitri Orlov, general director of the Political and Economic Communications Agency. He maintains that Medvedev will mostly focus on his foreign policy functions.

Out-of-favor tycoon Boris Berezovsky, a perennial opponent of Putin, says he doesn’t believe that Putin and Medvedev will be able to coexist peacefully. He predicts that this will cause conflict between the friends and fellow politicians. Putin is “behaving like a Jew: he’s said goodbye, but hasn’t left,” says Berezovsky in an interview with Radio Liberty, pointing out that Putin has chosen the worst option, in terms of security among other things.

Boris Berezovsky: “He’s telling Medvedev: I don’t trust you, so I’m going to stay on as prime minister, and control the parliament as leader of the ruling party. In this atmosphere of mistrust, the outcome won’t depend on the personalities of Putin and Medvedev – it will depend on the interests of the political forces that always cluster around the Kremlin. And this conflict will certainly be resolved in favor of one side.” In Berezovsky’s opinion, the conflict will be resolved in the president’s favor, since Putin “doesn’t control the most important thing – the president’s signature on a dismissal order for the prime minister.” Berezovsky notes that he has often been wrong about timeframes, but not about the essence of events; he predicts that the conflict will last “no longer than a year, probably nowhere near as long.”

Mark Urnov, head of the Ekspertiza analytical center, predicts that Putin will strengthen his positions as prime minister. In an interview with Radio Libertay, Urnov lists the powers “acquired” by the new prime minister: he is the official leader of United Russia, so he has “direct control of the legislative branch,” and regional leaders now report to the Cabinet. Urnov notes that Putin has yet to take the final step: “Announcing the appointment of a deputy prime minister responsible for the security and law enforcement agencies.” Urnov says: “This would make Putin a full-fledged chancellor, while leaving the president much weaker than the prime minister. In effect, this means that Russia has completed the cycle of establishing an authoritarian regime in which the key figure, concentrating all power, is no longer directly dependent on voters – since the prime minister can be reappointed indefinitely, with no term limits. His position does not depend on the will of the people, as expressed through elections. It depends on the consent of the balance of power within the ruling elite.”

Polit.ru maintains that observers will be able to judge the actual distribution of power between Prime Minister Putin and President Medvedev by tracking the upcoming series of dismissals and appointments in the Cabinet and the presidential administration – especially reshuffles among the security and law enforcement people (siloviki) in Putin’s inner circle.

Speaking anonymously, a high-ranking state official told Reuters: “Two appointments will help everyone see the full picture: the head of the presidential administration and the director of the Federal Security Service (FSB). These appointments will clarify everything.”

Polit.ru goes on to say that the stock market is particularly interested in the future of Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin; everyone is trying to figure out which economists will influence Kremlin policy-making. Another indicator is the political future of two influential deputy heads of the presidential administration: Igor Sechin and Vladislav Surkov. Sechin, chairman of the board at the Rosneft oil corporation, is regarded as the unofficial leader of the Kremlin’s siloviki faction; he is predicted to become Prime Minister Putin’s chief-of-staff. Political Conjuncture Center analyst Pavel Salin says: “The configuration in the Cabinet is easier to understand, since those who are known as the siloviki are Putin’s usual personnel reserve, and they are likely to be transferred to the Cabinet.”

Observers are also expecting some reshuffles among the “St. Petersburg lawyers” – those who have been acquainted with Medvedev since his student days in Leningrad. Medvedev has referred to one of them as a friend: Anton Ivanov, chairman of the Supreme Arbitration Court. Another of Medvedev’s unofficial advisors, reportedly, is Alexander Voloshin, who served as head of the presidential administration from the late Yeltsin era through Putin’s first term in office.

According to media reports, new appointments are expected to take place straight after the May holiday season – perhaps as soon as May 12. Thus, political analysts will soon be able to return to their favorite pastime: speculating about deputy prime ministers, ministers, and other political figures.

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