Get out and vote, Putin urges Russians (never mind that it won't make any difference)

By WILL STEWART

Last updated at 23:42 29 February 2008


Russia goes to the polls to elect a new President tomorrow - part of Vladimir Putin's carefully-orchestrated plan to keep a hold on power.

Diminutive Dmitry Medvedev will replace the Kremlin chief, taking over in May.

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Medvedev, a five four foot inch, aquarium owning Deep Purple fan, is a close ally of Putin, who anointed him as his successor and so guaranteed him victory in the polls.

The payback is that the new president will appoint Putin his prime minister.

Putin, president for eight years in which Russia has undergone an economic boom but also adopted an increasingly belligerent stance to the West, says he is ready to serve as PM if Medvedev, 42, wins.

Few doubt that this means Putin will continue to hold the reigns of power.

Yesterday Putin urged voters to take part in Sunday's presidential election. In a televised address, he said: "Every voice of yours will be important... cast a vote for our future."

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He added: "Russia's movement forward should not be stopped, changes for the better should continue."

He did not overtly say "vote Medvedev" but Russians know that only one candidate has vowed to adopt Putin's plan for the country in full.

The two men have been allies since 1992 when they both worked for the mayor of St. Petersburg. Putin, an ex-KGB Colonel, and Medvedev a lawyer and academic, shared a desk. Then, as now, Medvedev was Putin's sidekick.

Dmitry Lenkov, a member of the city council at the time said: "Medvedev was a hardly noticeable grey mouse -- nobody really paid attention much to him. Putin made all the decisions, Medvedev did the legwork."

Putin's shadow is expected to loom over his successor, a father of one after he is elected, despite the new man having a more liberal image, experts say.

Although in recent weeks he has said, "Freedom is better than non-freedom," relations with the West, and particularly Britain, are unlikely to thaw.

Born to a family of academics in St. Petersburg, Medvedev took jobs as a construction worker and a street cleaner while he was at university, saving his money to buy blue jeans and foreign records.

He saved for months to buy Pink Floyd's "The Wall."

When Putin came to power, Medvedev, as one of his oldest and most trusted allies, landed the key post of deputy head of the presidential administration and head of Gazprom, the giant state gas company.

Over the next few years, Medvedev whipped the gas company into shape, and Putin turned it into one of the most potent arms of an aggressive new foreign policy.

His main foe in the poll is Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov, who is not alone in claiming the election has been rigged in advance.

Medvedev is expected to secure at least 60 per cent, meaning he will win without the need for a second ballot.

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