In Putin's shadow, Russia inaugurates Medvedev
The new president, a savvy lawyer who likes Led Zeppelin, faces rising corruption and decaying national infrastructure.
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But Mr. Medvedev, a youthful apparatchik who favors
Deep Purple and seeks Internet-savvy underlings for his administration, will face a daunting list of issues as he begins to wield that power.
First among these, experts say, is an urgent need to clarify his relations with the man who will formally hand him the keys to the Kremlin on Wednesday: his longtime mentor, Vladimir Putin.
In any effort to assert himself, experts from across the political spectrum suggest, Medvedev will have little choice but to confront many accumulated problems left behind by Mr. Putin, which include spiraling corruption, growing authoritarianism, and decaying national infrastructure.
"It is absolutely necessary for Medvedev to move from being the elected president to being the real one," says Boris Nemtsov, a former deputy prime minister and coauthor of "Putin: The Bottom Line" – a scathing assessment of Putin's legacy whose distribution has been largely suppressed in Russia. "Our Constitution gives the president almost unlimited authority to rule ... but how to assume this power is an immediate practical problem for Medvedev."
How he goes about that could shed light on whether his tenure will mark a departure from Putin's approach, or, as he himself has pledged, to build upon the successes of the Putin era.
"Since the executive branch tends to be supreme in Russia, I believe Medvedev has every opportunity to bring a new impulse to Russian reforms," says Yaroslav Lissovolik, chief economist for Deutsche Bank in Russia.
One approach for Medvedev might be to launch a serious crusade against corruption. Last year Russia sank to 143rd place from 127th in 2006 in the Berlin-based Transparency International's global corruption rankings of about 160 countries (the higher the number, the worse the record). According to the independent Moscow-based InDem Foundation, businesses now spend about 7 percent of their income on bribes.
"Putin is synonymous with corruption, so for Medvedev, fighting corruption means breaking with Putin," says Mr. Nemtsov. "The one 'success' of the Putin era, economic growth, is under threat from the tremendous growth of corruption," he adds.
While not everyone holds Putin personally responsible for the corruption, most agree it's a major problem. Sergei Markov, a Putin supporter and parliamentarian from the Putin-led United Russia (UR) party says Medvedev must "send signals that he will take the fight against corruption seriously. I think Putin will approve of this and will use the Medvedev presidency to break his own ties with some corrupt people whom he's grown tired of."
Medvedev could also challenge Putin by moving to curb the ballooning UR party – now led by Putin – which has acquired a dominant two-thirds majority in the State Duma (the lower house of parliament) as well as control over most regional legislatures.