Nothing a 'Done Deal' In Russian Politics

Who is Dmitry Medvedev? And what kind of Russian President would he be?

MOSCOW, Dec. 13, 2007— -- The man endorsed by Russian President Vladimir Putin as his successor is a bookish former law professor known more for his scholarly intellect than his political prowess.

Dmitry Medvedev currently serves as the first deputy prime minister and he is also chairman of Gazprom, the largest company in Russia. At the age of 42, he is poised to become the youngest leader of Russia since Tsar Nicholas II in 1894.

Medvedev's rise comes as no surprise to most Russians. Following Putin's landslide victory in this month's parliamentary elections, there have been two popular theories on how he would maintain his enormous power after his term expires early next year. The first entailed a change in the constitution to allow Putin to run for a third term. The second had Putin choosing a weak successor whom he could easily control.

Medvedev's endorsement seems to fit Plan B. He has never run for any office before and he owes his entire career to Putin.

Masha Lipman, a political analyst with the Carnegie Institute, tells ABC News that Medvedev's nomination has no real significance until it becomes clear what his role will be. "I would not overestimate the actual choice until we know what the balance of authority will be in the country."

On Tuesday Medvedev demonstrated his attachment to the president by asking Putin to be the prime minister of his future government. Putin has not yet commented on Medvedev's request, but if he does accept the position, it will fundamentally change the way Russia has operated for years.

The bulk of the power will shift from the Kremlin, where the presidential office has enjoyed enormous authority, to the Cabinet, which has played a peripheral role. Lipman argues that this power balance is not decided by constitutions or elections, but by forces that are not transparent: "The real politics is hidden from the public eye, the real politics is going on where we can not see it," he said.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Wednesday praised Medvedev's intelligence, saying in an interview with USA Today that he is "of another generation" of Russian leaders.

In terms of foreign policy, the little that has been heard from Medvedev sounds very familiar. In a recent speech he echoed Putin, extolling the growing importance of Russian in the world.

"The attitude toward Russia in the world is different now," Medvedev said. "We are not being lectured like schoolchildren. We are respected and we are deferred to. Russia has reclaimed its proper place in the world community."

In Lipman's opinion, the most important question is not whether Medvedev would be good news for the West, but whether he will even have a role as the mastermind and implementer of foreign policy. "Is Putin ready to entrust this authority to anyone? Not clear, and looking today, not likely."

In Russia, Medvedev is generally liked. A typical attitude toward Medvedev was reflected by Svetlana Nagornova, a cleaning lady in Moscow, who said, "He is intelligent, he is calm... there are many who are close to Putin, but he is the best."

Galina Anichkina, the manager of a design firm, was perhaps looking for more. "He is a very murky type to me, an unremarkable personality. It is clear that they have chosen the one who is spineless. It is clear they have chosen a softy who will fulfill all their orders."

A recent poll conducted by Moscow's Levada Centre shows that 35 % of Russians asked would vote for Medvedev if elections were held this weekend.

With so many enjoying the fruits of an oil-fueled economic boom, there is little incentive to rock the boat. As Volodya Usanin, a driver from Moscow said, "I am happy. I have a wife and children and grandchildren. I have work and I am not hungry."

The future looks bright for Medvedev but Lipman cautioned, "Nothing is a done deal in Russia."