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The presidential elections in Russia are very predictable. Everyone knows
The presidential elections in Russia are very predictable. Everyone knows the name of the winner - First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, a nominee backed by the government, and a successor of President Vladimir Putin.

Medvedev is a long-standing member of Putin's team. He worked with Putin in the St Petersburg Mayor's Office in early 1990s, and enjoys his unreserved trust.  It was Putin who put forward Medvedev's nomination to the public. In turn, the public that wants to see the current political and economic policy continued has delegated the choice of the next president to Putin. If Putin cannot be re-elected for a third term without violating the Constitution, he can be made responsible for the choice of his successor.

The public does not want to make a mistake that may lead to new upheavals, as it happened in the 1990s, when many voters were hugely disappointed in their recent idol Boris Yeltsin. In this respect, Russian electorate contrasts sharply with Western voters. This situation may change in mid-term perspective, but not until public mentality becomes radically different.

It is clear that Medvedev will score a landslide in the first round. According to the polls conducted by the highly respected Levada Center, even in 2004, 40% of Russians were ready to vote for any successor and did not bother much about the name. Now VTsIOM, an All-Russia Public Opinion Research Center, predicts that Medvedev will receive 75% of votes.

But the choice of successor is not the only factor that determines the situation. Medvedev's rivals are obviously weak. Two of them, the Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov and the head of the populist Liberal-Democratic Party Vladimir Zhirinovsky, have long lost any hope of victory. Many of their voters are also pessimistic. This will be the third time that Zyuganov takes part in the elections, and the fourth try for Zhirinovsky. Neither of them presents any danger to the government.

They are vying for the second place. If Zhirinovsky wins over Zyuganov, the Communists may change their eternal leader, who has headed the party since 1993. The fourth candidate, Andrei Bogdanov, is purely technical. His participation guarantees that the elections will take place in any event, even if Medvedev's two other rivals withdraw from the race (by law, for the elections to take place, there have to be at least two candidates).

The Central Election Commission has barred Liberal candidate Mikhail Kasyanov, former prime minister, from the elections because he failed to collect the required number of signatures. But his possible participation wouldn't have changed the outcome of the elections. All sociological centers estimated his votes at no more than two percent. Kasyanov could have lashed out at the authorities, thereby complicating the smooth run of the election campaign, but this is about all.

Since the results of the elections are predetermined, we can already discuss Russia's post-election prospects. Putin is likely to retain his substantial influence on political and economic processes. He has already announced his readiness to become prime minister. His speech at a State Council session earlier this month shows that he is not going to limit himself to strictly tactical functions of the head of government. Setting the ambitious aim of making Russia one of the world's most advanced countries, Putin has proposed a strategy of national development up to 2020.

To all appearances, Russia will have a diarchy, under which the prime minister will have much more authorities than before. There is no need to make amendments to the Constitution - it will be enough to change political practice for a new alignment of forces. Judging by everything, with time the influence of the new president is likely to increase. There is every reason to believe that Putin is serious about his successor, and that rumors about him being a temporary figure are groundless.

Medvedev is a lawyer who specializes in civic law; he has never worked in secret services, and stands for the market economy and contacts with the West. Putin has chosen him as his successor with good reason. The Russian authorities, like any other, want to protect effectively the interests of their own country. It would be an illusion to think that the new president will pursue a pro-Western line.

Needless to say a moderate liberal like Medvedev will not initiative a conflict with the West; he will not conduct a great-power policy, step up the arms race, or make friends with "rogue" countries. Now it is up to the United States and Europe to decide whether they want to develop positive relations with the new Russian president, or follow the logic of confrontation.

 

Alexei Makarkin is Vice President of the Center of Political Technologies

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.


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