Medvedev defends choice of 'more popular' Putin

30th September 2011, Comments 0 comments

President Dmitry Medvedev on Friday dismissed criticism that he stripped Russian voters of choices by deciding to step down in favour of his more popular and respected political mentor Vladimir Putin.

The momentous September 24 announcement paved the way for Putin's return next year to a job he held in 2000-2008 and took all suspense out of a vote whose uncompetitive nature reflects the Kremlin's dominance in Russian politics.

But Medvedev -- a lawyer by training who was seen as the more liberal force when hand-picked by Putin to succeed him as head of state -- took pains to defend his democratic credentials in his first comments on the decision.

"How can they be predetermined?" a passionate Medvedev said when asked of the upcoming elections in a Russian television interview whose full transcript was released by the Kremlin.

"Such talk is completely irresponsible, misleading and even provocative," he said with emotion in his voice.

The job swap will see Medvedev take on Putin's current role of prime minister and ensure that the same team of ex-security agents and state bureaucrats leads Russia for the next six and possibly 12 years.

Kremlin critics have compared this arrangement to Soviet-era politics.

But Medvedev said the decision was logical and compared it to the working relationship established between US President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton following their bruising battle in the 2008 primaries.

"Could you imagine a situation in which Barack Obama would suddenly start competing with Hillary Clinton? I remember that they both ran for president. But that would be unimaginable!" Medvedev exclaimed.

Medvedev's decision to stand down followed polling data showing his ultimate failure to connect with voters despite his round-the-clock television appearances.

The weeks preceding the fateful ruling United Russia party congress saw Putin make a series of campaign-style appearances that dominated the news and Medvedev keep out of the limelight while vacationing on the Black Sea.

This contrast was especially striking since it came only weeks after the Russian president said that "any leader who holds the post of president simply must want to run" for re-election.

But he explained on Friday that he and Putin had many years ago decided which of them would be running again in 2012 and that he was only mulling his candidacy in case of a sudden upsurge of political support.

"I notice that Prime Minister Putin is now unquestionably the most authoritative politician in our country and that his rating is somewhat higher," said Medvedev.

The comments echoed a phrase dropped by Putin at the party congress about the two old allies having decided about the future power configuration shortly after completing the Kremlin handover to Medvedev in 2008.

"So when I said that I do not exclude (running), I was not lying," said Medvedev.

"Life could have taken an unexpected turn. But we still had our agreements," he said in reference to their change in assignments.

The long-awaited but delayed presidential announcement has exposed Medvedev in the closing months of his presidency to revolt from within his ranks and a rare level of bitter criticism from relatively moderate media observers.

His planned return to the cabinet saw former finance minister Alexei Kudrin -- a fiscal hawk revered by Western investors who has served in government since the 1990s -- revolt and then promptly get sacked.

Kudrin had himself been mooted as a potential contender for prime minister and his future government role is unclear. Medvedev for his part said his finance minister had "simply ... spent too long in this job."

Some in the media meanwhile skewered Medvedev for comparing his relationship with Putin to that shared by Clinton and Obama.

"Who suggested that you say something so stupid, and why did you decide to repeat it?" Moscow Echo radio news editor Alexei Venediktov asked rhetorically on air.

© 2011 AFP

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