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Russian president sworn in

As expected, he nominates Putin as prime minister

President Dmitry Medvedev of Russia and his wife, Svetlana, attended a service in Moscow after the inauguration. President Dmitry Medvedev of Russia and his wife, Svetlana, attended a service in Moscow after the inauguration. (DMITRY ASTAKHOV/AFP/Getty Images)
Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Megan K. Stack
Los Angeles Times / May 8, 2008

MOSCOW - Dmitry Medvedev, a corporate lawyer tapped and groomed for the Kremlin by Vladimir V. Putin, was sworn in as president yesterday under the watchful gaze of his mentor and predecessor.

As soon as the ceremony was over, just as they had planned for months, Medvedev nominated Putin for prime minister.

With the two men apparently poised to rule in tandem, Russians were left waiting with a mix of anxiety and curiosity for hints of who is really in charge: 42-year-old Medvedev, who holds the highest job in the land, or Putin, the former KGB officer and wily politician who seems determined to keep a grip on power.

"Now it is extremely important that we together continue the course of the country, which has already justified itself," Putin told 2,000 dignitaries, referring to his years in office as a "breakthrough to new life" for Russia.

He also hinted that he regards his policies and plans as shaping Russia for decades to come, pointing out: "We are already formulating goals not for one or two months, but for 20 and 30 years ahead."

A sober-faced Medvedev, speaking after his longtime boss, talked of the need for rule of law and decried the corruption that has plagued Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union - and continued to rage throughout Putin's eight-year presidency.

"We ought to achieve a genuine respect for law, to overcome the legal nihilism which seriously hampers with modern development," he said.

In recent months, Medvedev has been a steady presence at Putin's side, following his fellow St. Petersburg native during state visits and key meetings. In one public appearance after another, both men hammered the theme of continuity, indicating that Medvedev would pick up where Putin left off. That message continued yesterday.

By midafternoon, Medvedev sent a letter to the State Duma, the lower house of parliament, nominating Putin as prime minister, then settled in to issue decrees on housing for World War II veterans and use of public lands.

The parliament is scheduled to debate Putin's nomination today, but the discussion is a formality. Putin has nearly finished choosing the members of the new government, the Interfax news agency reported.

Nobody can say for certain whether the new president is a fresh face to front the same ruling constellation of Putin and the power-brokers who shored him up, or whether Medvedev might come into his own as a Russian leader. "I don't even think they themselves understand how this will work," said Lilia Shevtsova, a senior associate at the Carnegie Moscow Center. "It's quite an unusual scenario."

During his rule, Putin guided Russia through years of growing wealth and influence, as skyrocketing oil prices filled the nation's coffers and allowed Moscow to throw its weight around internationally for the first time since Soviet days. Putin's admirers credit him with ushering in a new era of political stability to a weakened and traumatized country, squashing the raucous politics that defined Russia in the 1990s.

However, critics point out that Russia has bought the appearance of stability at the price of democracy. Putin centralized power in the Kremlin, banned people from electing their governors and clamped state control on media until virtually no independent voice remained

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