Russians are preparing to go to the polls Sunday to elect their next president. But out of four candidates competing for the post, Kremlin-backed Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev is the overwhelming favorite to win. Yet how much do the Russians actually know about the man who is likely to become their next president aside from the fact that he is supported by Russian President Vladimir Putin? Anya Ardayeva has this report from Moscow.
If he wins the upcoming presidential election on March 2, which is almost a foregone conclusion, the 42-year-old Dmitri Medvedev will become the youngest Russian leader since the 1917 Bolshevik revolution.
And yet - he is a man who has never been a professional politician.
Lilia Shevtsova, with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace says,"So far, Mr. Medvedev, really to some extent, he was Mr. Nobody, when we are talking about public politics. He is a very good manager that we know for sure. He's been pretty effective with his own business. He is a very good apparatchik (bureaucrat), he is a very good manager."
Critics accuse the current Russian leadership of destroying the free media and democratic institutions. In spite of that - or maybe because opposition voices have been silenced here - polls show public trust for Vladimir Putin at more than 70 percent.
And Dmitri Medvedev's popularity is soaring as well. According to recent polls, two thirds of Russian citizens say they trust Medvedev as a politician - because they trust Vladimir Putin. The Deputy Prime Minister even refused to join the other three presidential candidates in televised debates.
Analyst Evgeni Volk from the Heritage Foundation added, "For Putin, Medvedev is the most loyal candidate for Putin, they've been working together for almost two decades. And he is the man who owes his professional and political career to Putin only."
However, if elected, Dmitri Medvedev isn't likely to enjoy the full reigns of power as Vladimir Putin did. The current Russian president has repeatedly said he would like to stay in power - and might become the country's Prime Minister after his second term expires in March.
"Already we know who is going to be the boss at the Kremlin,? Shevtsova said, ?The problem is that we still do not know who is going to rule Russia. We still do not know what would be the rules of the game."
If he becomes president, Medvedev will inherit a country, which has seen an unprecedented inflow of money from high oil prices. However, problems - such as high inflation - remain. Economists predict inflation could rise by 15% this year -- despite a state-mandated price freeze on consumer staples, such as bread, milk, sunflower oil and eggs.
"And this is a very serious complication for Medvedev, because the growth of state spending, which is taking place right now, will make itself known in 4-5 months when Medvedev will be in power,? Volk said, ?And these problems that Medvedev will have during the first months of his presidency can damage his image and his popularity because inflation will grow."
Many Russians say they will vote for Dmitri Medvedev because of Vladimir Putin - who they believe has brought stability to this country.
But Evgeni Volk says if Dmitri Medvedev is forced to deal with economic problems left from his predecessor, he might have to choose his own path, "When some people come to power, history shows us that they can change dramatically. And what looks like full loyalty of Medvedev towards Putin can change," he said.
Vladimir Putin himself is a perfect example. He was brought to power in 1999 by Boris Yeltsin, who opened up the country to democratic reforms. But Mr. Putin has rolled back many of those reforms to such an extent, say his critics, that it will take years to revive democratic institutions in Russia.