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Medvedev-Putin Relationship May Guide Future Russian Policy

Dmitri Medvedev, 42, officially becomes president of Russia on May 7. He will succeed Vladimir Putin, who has led the country for eight years. But Mr. Putin will not leave the political scene - Mr. Medvedev has promised to name him prime minister. In this report from Washington, VOA Senior Correspondent André de Nesnera looks at the relationship between the two men and what it may reveal for the future.

Analysts say little is known about Mr. Medvedev, other than what is contained in his official biography. What is known is that he owes his political career to Mr. Putin. They met 17 years ago when both worked for the mayor of St. Petersburg, Anatoly Sobchak.

By 1999, Mr. Putin was named prime minister, then acting president, after Boris Yeltsin resigned. He was elected president of Russia in 2000, and he invited Mr. Medvedev to work for him in Moscow. Mr. Medvedev rose to chief of staff and was also made chairman of the state gas monopoly, Gazprom. He currently holds the post of first deputy prime minister.

Late last year, Mr. Putin chose Mr. Medvedev as his successor, and he easily won the presidential election on March 2, getting more than 70 percent of the vote. Candidate Medvedev promised to name Vladimir Putin prime minister.

During a news conference February 28, President Bush responded to a statement that U.S. Senators Barrack Obama and Hillary Clinton - running for the democratic presidential nomination - said they did not know a great deal about Mr. Medvedev.

"I do not know much about Medvedev either. And what will be interesting to see is who represents Russia at the G8, for example. It will be interesting to see - it will help, I think, give some insight as to how Russia intends to conduct foreign policy after Vladimir Putin's presidency," said Mr. Bush.

But analysts say the Russian constitution is clear as to who will be in charge of foreign relations. It says the Russian president will govern the foreign policy of the country and represent Russia on the world stage.

Experts say a more important question is whether Dmitri Medvedev, who owes so much to outgoing President Putin, will be his own man or whether he will be "Putin's puppet."

Jason Lyall is a Russia expert at Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.

"I do not think we actually know the answer to this question right now. Medvedev is in some ways just a cipher - we do not know that much about him. He is portrayed as Putin's man, but he is just been recorded as saying no, the power runs through the presidency," said Lyall. "And so you might see in the beginning that Putin is running the show. But my hunch is that Medvedev is going to step in, he is going to develop his own power base and this may get into a real interesting situation where there are dual power centers in Russia. And I honestly do not know how this is going to play out. I do not think anybody knows yet how this is going to play out. It is going to hinge on the relationship between these two men. In the beginning, I think Putin is going to be calling the shots. Two years down the road - I just do not know."

Michael McFaul from Stanford University, says it is difficult to say whether there will be friction between the two men.

"I am nervous about predicting tension between the two men who have worked together for almost two decades," said McFaul. "And yet, almost by definition, from the set-up of the relationship, moving forward, Medvedev gradually will have to become his own leader, his own president. And for him to just act as a puppet to the prime minister, I think over time that will be difficult to sustain. I am not of the view that some people express that you already see the signs of tension and that Medvedev is going to be some break with the Putin era. I see much more continuity going forward."

But Marshal Goldman from Harvard University, says there could be tensions between the two men.

"Because once you have got power in Russia, one of the things we have seen is that power after awhile goes to your head and you resent being told what to do even if you're being told by what was your mentor," said Goldman. "There certainly should be a honeymoon in the early stages because Medvedev has been very close to Putin. Putin has brought him alone quite a bit and it may very well be that they can divide up responsibilities. But I think it is going to be hard for Putin to give up all the controls that he had."

In the long run, experts say two centers of power in Russia, some call it a co-presidency, are unsustainable. They say either the Russian constitution must be changed to give more powers to the prime minister or the political structure will remain the same with the president, in this case Dmitri Medvedev, holding the upper hand.