Russia Begins Slow Transfer from Putin to Medvedev
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Now let's report on another powerhouse of Asia - Russia, where there's a changing on the guard this week. President Vladimir Putin will hand off to his successor, Dmitry Medvedev. And the Russians say this transition is going to take a little bit of time. They say there will be little change at first. And certainly Putin will still be around.
This may be eventually an opportunity to look again at relations between the United States and Russia. There have been many problems there, but few people in Washington expect change right away. Most observers say this is going to be for the next American president to deal with.
NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.
MICHELE KELEMEN: Stable and predictable - that's how Russians describe this weeks' transfer of power from Putin to Dmitry Medvedev. Yeager Yorkins(ph), the head of Russian think tank that's been advising the incoming president, brought that message to officials here in Washington.
Mr. YEAGER YORKINS: Any leader elected in the U.S. or any other old democracy comes with his team and immediately starts his 100 days of delivery of the promises. This is not the case of Medvedev. He didn't come with his team. The team is Putin's team.
KELEMEN: He says the transition will take time, and piece by piece Medvedev will gain more authority. Yorkins was here in Washington last week meeting State Department officials and talking up the incoming Russian president.
Mr. YORKINS: He's a young guy, Internet generation leader - from this point of view, more open.
KELEMEN: That image seems to be taking hold among some top Bush administration officials, though Nicholas Gvosdev of the Nixon Center says he doesn't think Americans are really paying enough attention to Medvedev.
Mr. NICHOLAS GVOSDEV (Nixon Center): I am struck by the extent to which he's been discounted. I think that there is this sense that he is simply a tool of President Putin, that there hasn't been as much focus on some of the areas, particularly over the last seven years, where he has advanced and developed this Russian skillful use of business diplomacy and economic leverage as a way to assert Russian interest.
KELEMEN: Gvosdev says it is significant that Medvedev plans to go to China and to Germany as his first foreign trips as president. Gvosdev says the former chairman of the board of the Russian gas monopoly is likely to build up business connections and ties with Europe so it will be less easy for any future U.S. president to show a united front with the Europeans when it comes to Russia on issues like democracy or NATO expansion.
Mr. GVOSDEV: This is the first Russian leader who was trained in instruments of power that are not military and not intelligence. So for the 20th century, the fear was Russian tanks are going to be coming across the border. We're now dealing with the 21st century Russian leader who understands that energy and currency are the tools of power.
KELEMEN: Russia has been reasserting itself on the world stage and becoming more authoritarian at home. The last time they met, Presidents Bush and Putin tried to lay out a more positive roadmap for their successors, though there are many skeptics - among them, Mark Medish of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Mr. MARK MEDISH (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace): Unfortunately, you know, it comes toward the end of the Bush administration, so it's mostly a list of things to be done in the future, things that have not been really accomplished on his watch. And the same could be said of Putin.
KELEMEN: Medish, a former Clinton administration official, says President Bush's policy on Russia has been incoherent, and the president doesn't have a lot to show for the personal friendship he forged with Putin. Medish says the list of problems in U.S.-Russian relations is long and growing, including now a dispute over missile defense and what he calls Russian saber rattling in the Caucasus.
Having a new U.S. president is an opportunity to turn a new page, but that will depend on who is elected. Yeager Yorkins, the Medvedev advisor, doesn't like the fact that John McCain has called for Russia to be kicked out of the group of eight most-industrialized countries.
Mr. YORKINS: If Senator McCain comes as the president of the United States and insists that Russia should be chased out of G8, that's one agenda. If Senator Obama comes as the president of the United States and says I want better relations with Russia, then it's another agenda.
KELEMEN: As for Hillary Clinton, Yorkins says he doesn't see much of a difference between her and Obama when it comes to Russia. He just likes the fact that Obama is from the same generation as Medvedev.
Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.
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