Putin's Chosen Successor Wins in a Landslide

Vladimir Putin's chosen successor won Sunday's presidential election in Russia with more than 70 percent of the vote, but independent election monitors claim the election was rigged. President-elect Dmitry Medvedev said his massive victory meant Russia would continue following Putin's policies.

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STEVEN INSKEEP, host:

And let's go next to Moscow where nobody is surprised by the choice that Russians made for president over the weekend. Western election observers say Dmitry Medvedev was the popular choice. He was the chosen successor of a popular leader, Vladimir Putin. And just in case he hadn't been so popular, observers say he assured his victory with a voting process that was flawed. So that's not a surprise, but the new president will have many chances to surprise people once he takes office. One of the many questions about him is whether he will steer his country away from its growing authoritarianism. Another question is whether he'll keep on confronting the West.

NPR's Gregory Feifer reports from Moscow.

GREGORY FEIFER: No one in Russia was surprised at Medvedev's overwhelming victory.

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The Kremlin had already organized a rock concert under the cold drizzle on Red Square.

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When Medvedev emerged to address the crowd, he stood on stage with Putin, and it was Putin's name the audience chanted when he said the election results meant Russia would continue following his policies.

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President VLADIMIR PUTIN (Russia): (Russian spoken)

FEIFER: Putin said Medvedev's victory showed Russia was a democratic country. But major opposition leaders were barred from running in the election. They say the results were fixed and earlier had called on Russians to boycott the vote. Many of those who did cast their ballots yesterday admit to knowing little about the country's new leader.

As Russian's prepare to enter a new post-Putin era, many have been parsing Medvedev's recent speeches to try to learn exactly what kind of leader he'll make. Last month, the former corporate lawyer said Russia's priorities include establishing justice and freedom.

President-elect DMITRI MEDVEDEV (Russia): (Through translator) Freedom is better than no freedom. Those words are the quintessence of the human experience. I'm talking about freedom in all its aspects - personal freedom, economic freedom and the freedom of expression.

FEIFER: Some welcomed Medvedev's words as implicit criticism of Putin's presidency. Under Putin, the Kremlin has taken over much of the economy, cracked down against the independent media, and sidelined opposition groups. Some hope a softer, friendlier new leader will ease the Kremlin's authoritarianism.

But Medvedev has shown another side. He's begun taking on Putin's mannerisms, from his tough guy walk to his increasingly antagonistic rhetoric toward the West. Last month, Medvedev accused the United States of seeking to destabilize Europe and lashed out against the British cultural organization for spying on Russia.

President-elect MEDVEDEV: (Through translator): The world's attitude to Russia has changed. Other countries no longer lecture us like little school children. they respect us and have to listen to our opinions. Russia has returned to its rightful place in the world.

FEIFER: Political analysts say Medvedev's mixed messages reflect Kremlin strategy to make Putin's successor all things to all people, talking tough to a domestic audience that wants Russia to stand up to the West, while simultaneously signaling to Western leaders that he might be easier to get along with than his predecessor.

Independent expert Dmitri Arushkin(ph) says Medvedev's most important political characteristic is his unswerving loyalty to Putin.

Putin's presidency will end in May, but many believe he plans to hold onto power in the new post of prime minister to which Medvedev has already said he'll appoint his predecessor. Dmitri Arushkin say Medvedev will serve as only a figurehead president.

Mr. DMITRI ARUSHKIN (Political expert): (Through translator): Putin has done everything to ensure Medvedev is loyal to him and will continue to be in the future. That's why Putin pick Medvedev to succeed him.

FEIFER: Of course, Medvedev might surprise observers by establishing his own authority just as Putin did eight years ago after he emerged from obscurity. But as the West tries to figure out if Medvedev's Russia will be any different than Putin's, Arushkin says it should remember that in Russia these days, words are used to hide real intentions.

Gregory Feifer, NPR News, Moscow.

INSKEEP: And you can read a profile of President - or future President Dmitri Medvedev and what the United States can do to engage him at npr.org.

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It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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