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DateLine Sunday, 11 May 2008

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Medvedev becomes Russia's leader

Dmitry Medvedev has promised to extend Russia's civil and economic freedoms after being sworn in as new president.

"Human rights and freedoms... are deemed of the highest value for our society," he said at a lavish inauguration ceremony in the Kremlin. Mr Medvedev took over from Vladimir Putin, becoming Russia's third leader since the collapse of the USSR in 1991.

Within hours, Mr Medvedev, nominated Mr Putin, his mentor, as prime minister.

"Medvedev has put forward Putin's candidacy for prime minister to parliament," a Kremlin spokesman said.

Mr Medvedev won a landslide victory in the polls, and Wednesday's inauguration capped his sharp ascendance from obscurity.

I'm going to pay special attention to the fundamental role of the law. We must achieve a true respect in law, overcome the legal nihilism

It was held in the Kremlin's magnificent St Andrew's Hall.

The ceremony began with an honour guard bringing in the symbols of the presidential office.

Mr Putin then made a short speech, describing the handover of power as "a hugely important stage" for Russia.

"It's extremely important... to continue the course that has already been taken and has justified itself," said Mr Putin, referring to his eight years in power.

Mr Medvedev then took an oath on a red-bound copy of the Russian constitution. In a brief speech, he pledged to work for "a better" Russia, developing "civil and economic freedom".

He said that "human rights and freedoms... determine the meaning and content of all state activity".

Mr Medvedev also stressed he would "pay special attention to the fundamental role of the law".

He then thanked Mr Putin for his personal support, saying he hoped he would enjoy such backing in the future.

A 30-gun salute was then fired from the Kremlin embankment to mark Mr Medvedev's inauguration.

The grand ceremony was the expression of a new confidence that oil- and gas-rich Russia now feels, correspondents say.

Lengthy partnership

Having campaigned as Mr Putin's protege and tied himself to his mentor's policies as soon as his victory became known, analysts say it is no surprise that Mr Putin will continue to play a central role.

Mr Putin urged Russians to support his successor


Dmitry Medvedev with Vladimir Putin

An economic liberal, Mr Medvedev has served Mr Putin as first deputy prime minister, chairman of Gazprom - Russia's enormous state-run gas monopoly, campaign chief and chief of staff.

But his working relationship with his predecessor goes back much further.

A lawyer by training, in the 1990s Mr Medvedev was an assistant professor at St Petersburg State University, during which time he became an expert consultant for the city's mayor - one Vladimir Putin.

And, analysts suggest, their partnership looks set to continue.

But the question of who wields the real power in the Kremlin will continue to fascinate, puzzle and perplex, the BBC's James Rodgers in Moscow says.

Mr Putin will remain Russia's most popular politician for the foreseeable future, which will give him huge influence over the man he mentored as his successor, our correspondent says.

'Wait and see'

The Kremlin's lack of tolerance for dissenters was highlighted on Tuesday as police detained dozens of would-be protestors in advance of a planned rally by The Other Russia, an opposition group led by world chess champion Garry Kasparov.

However, there are hopes - both in Russia and abroad - that the country will be changing under Mr Medvedev.

"Any day that you can exchange a member of the secret police for a law professor is a good day," international lawyer Robert Amsterdam, who represents jailed Yukos boss Mikhail Khodorkovsky, told the BBC.

"We'll simply have to wait and see," he added.

- BBC


Medvedev's 'difficult mission'

Russia's press considers whether newly-inaugurated President Dmitry Medvedev will be able to fulfil his election promise to continue Vladimir Putin's policies or whether he will be stifled by the "bureaucratic machine".

One commentator urges President Medvedev to take on the difficult but necessary task of carrying out reform.

Mikhail Leontyev, editor of Profil Magazine in Komsomolskaya Pravda

The main intrigue of the first 100 days is in establishing a new government and a new presidential administration. I don't think there will be any sharp moves because the whole idea is that policy is to be predictable and previous policy is to be continued.

Dmitry Medvedev is already a rather independent politician and he does not have to do anything special to assert himself over the first few months of his presidency.

Gleb Pavlovskiy, head of the Effective Politics Foundation in Komsomolskaya Pravda

The bureaucratic machine will try to grind down the new arrival... It is not by accident that Medvedev said recently that our bureaucratic system was the main enemy of innovation.

Besides, the first 100 days of the presidential term will be summer months when our people feel inclined to do anything but work. This is why this period will be very difficult for Medvedev and will be about who is going to defeat whom.

Boris Kagarlitskiy, head of the Institute Of Globalisation And Social Movements in Komsomolskaya Pravda

I don't think Medvedev will make any dramatic moves over the next few months... The main promise made to us at the election was that previous policy would continue. Therefore the authorities, including our new president, will be calmly carrying out their functions... Some new projects are likely in the autumn.

Irina Khakamada, politician, in Komsomolskaya Pravda

I hope that after the inauguration he will stay true to all the statements he made before it, including those on liberalising the economy and taking care of the people.

Mikhail Delyagin, head of the Institute Of Globalisation Problems in Komsomolskaya Pravda

He is facing a difficult mission. I would like him not only to become a fully-fledged president but also to reform and to modernise the country. This way he will win everyone's support.

Seniya Dubicheva, Dmitriy Latypov in Trud

Russians have been buying portraits of Medvdev but they prefer the ones where he is with Putin.

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.

-BBC


Profile: Dmitry Medvedev

Russia's new President Dmitry Medvedev is the country's first leader in decades with no known links either to the former Soviet Communist party or secret services. However, Mr Medvedev - a 42-year-old lawyer by education - is extremely close to his predecessor Vladimir Putin, a former KGB agent.


Medvedev with his wife Svetlana

He campaigned as Mr Putin's protege and tied himself to his policies as soon as his victory became known in the March elections. "We will be able to preserve the course of President Putin," he said, celebrating his landslide victory in Moscow after the polls.

In his inauguration speech, however, he pledged to develop "civil and economic freedom" in Russia, in what could be seen as a hint that the country may be changing under his rule.

Putin insider

Endorsing his nomination as presidential candidate, Mr Putin said: "I have known him for more than 17 years, I have worked with him very closely all these years". Mr Medvedev had been seen as one of several potential candidates to succeed Mr Putin.

Mr Putin was chosen as a successor by the late President Boris Yeltsin, and it was not long before Mr Medvedev followed him to the Kremlin, to serve as deputy chief of staff. In 2000, Mr Medvedev took charge of Vladimir Putin's presidential election campaign and in October 2003 he was appointed Kremlin chief of staff.

Mr Putin, in turn, played an important role in Mr Medvedev's presidential campaign, with both men featuring in an election poster alongside the slogan: "Together we will win." During the campaign, Mr Medvedev decided not to take part in televised debates with other candidates, stating that it would give his rivals additional promotion.

Political experience

Almost from his arrival at the Kremlin, Mr Medvedev took an active role at Gazprom.

A visit to Serbia in February enabled him not only to renew Moscow's support over Kosovo but also to sign a deal paving the way for the construction of a key gas pipeline. Perhaps most important to his credentials for the presidency was his promotion to the post of first deputy prime minister in charge of national projects.

Mr Medvedev oversaw major social initiatives in the areas of agriculture, health, education and efforts to boost Russia's low birth rate. He spearheaded measures to support foster families and develop pre-school education. He also helped restructure the Kremlin's relations with powerful billionaire oligarchs who made fortunes in the Yeltsin years.

In January 2007, he told the World Economic Forum in Davos: "We aim to create big Russian corporations and will back their foreign economic activities. "But the role of the state certainly should not involve telling any particular company or sector how to carry out diversification.

"Even if the state retains a controlling interest... we aim to create public companies with a substantial share of foreign investment in their capital." He is known to dislike labels, considering ideology harmful, and is not a member of any political party.

But he does consider himself a democrat: "We are well aware that no non-democratic state has ever become truly prosperous for one simple reason: freedom is better than non-freedom."

Private life

Just before the presidential election, Dmitry Medvedev told the Russian news magazine Itogi that his ancestors included farm workers, a blacksmith and a hat maker. He described growing up in a 40sq m (430sq ft) flat in Kupchino on the outskirts of St Petersburg, dreaming of buying jeans and Deep Purple and Pink Floyd records.

So it was something of a dream come true when Deep Purple played at the Kremlin in February 2008 at a concert to mark the 15th anniversary of the founding of Gazprom. While still a teenager, he fell in love with his future wife, Svetlana.

"I lost interest in lessons. It was much more interesting to hang out with my future wife," he said. They have a son, Ilya.

Mr Medvedev also describes how he worked on a building site and as a street cleaner to help fund his studies at university. At the age of 23 he was baptised into the Russian Orthodox Church, a decision he said he took himself.

"From that moment, I believe, a new life started for me," he said. -BBC

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