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For Russia, a Second Center of Power

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Dmitry Medvedev has taken the Russian presidential oath of office, succeeding his patron Vladimir Putin. He's pledging to bolster the country's economic development and civil rights. Video by AP

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By Peter Finn
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, May 8, 2008

MOSCOW, May 7 -- Dmitry Medvedev, a 42-year-old former law professor and protege of Vladimir Putin, was sworn in as Russia's third president Wednesday, creating an unusual dual power structure in a country long dominated by one man.

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After a brief but pomp-filled ceremony in the gilded Grand Kremlin Palace, Medvedev immediately nominated his highly popular predecessor to be the next prime minister. Russians are watching to see how much power Medvedev will exercise and how much will move to the traditionally low-influence office of the prime minister.

According to the Levada Center, a polling organization, 67 percent of Russians believe Medvedev will continue to "act under the control" of Putin and his inner circle. The Russian parliament is to confirm Putin as prime minister Thursday.

A decade of freewheeling and often chaotic democratic rule in Russia followed the demise of the Soviet Union in 1991. Putin reestablished central control in the presidency while overseeing a withering of political pluralism. In the past year, he had orchestrated a transfer of his post to Medvedev, who had never before run for political office.

Addressing the nation after taking the oath of office, Medvedev said, "We must achieve true respect for the law and end the legal nihilism that is seriously hindering modern development." That echoed language he has stressed since he emerged late last year as Putin's chosen successor.

Russia "should be truly just and take care of its citizens to provide the highest living standards so that as many people as possible can consider themselves members of the middle class," Medvedev said.

That will be a daunting task in a country that, while flush with revenue from oil and gas exports, is still riddled with corruption, saddled with a vast and stubborn bureaucracy, and facing a debilitating demographic decline.

How he and Putin will share power remains unknown. "Medvedev was elected president, but will he now run for the presidency?" asked Vladimir Ryzhkov, a critic of the Kremlin and former independent member of parliament. "Will Medvedev fight for power?"

For now, Medvedev and his predecessor have stressed harmony and the continuity of policies set by Putin over the last eight years.

"It is very important to continue together the already chosen course of the country's development," Putin said in a short farewell address before Medvedev was sworn in. "I made a commitment to work openly and honestly, to faithfully serve the people and the state. And I did not violate my promise."

Medvedev swept into the Kremlin in a stretch Mercedes limousine shortly before noon. He walked along a red carpet through three halls of the Grand Kremlin Palace and past about 2,000 guests, including foreign diplomats, members of both houses of parliament and regional leaders from across this country.

With Putin, legislative leaders and the head of the constitutional court by his side, Medvedev placed his hand on a copy of the Russian constitution and took the oath in the golden splendor of Andreyevsky Hall.


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