Western ideologues might cavil at the crushing victory of 42-year-old Dmitry Medvedev, a protégé and loyal ally of Vladimir Putin, in the Russian presidential election, which European observers have intriguingly characterised as “more of a plebiscite” than a proper democratic election. But there can be absolutely no doubt that this triumph over three rivals — Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov, ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky, and political newcomer Andrei Bogdanov — is an overwhelming endorsement of the policies Russia has pursued under Mr. Putin and a mandate to carry these policies forward. After all, the man who will be Russia’s next President took more than 70 per cent of the vote in an incident-free contest where the voter turnout was close to 70 per cent. It is true that Mr. Putin’s huge popularity after eight highly successful and productive years in office has been the main factor behind the outcome. As head of the Kremlin administration and later First Deputy Prime Minister in charge of key social programmes in health, education, housing, and demography, Mr. Medvedev has been the President’s right-hand man. In a formal reversal of roles, Mr. Putin will become Prime Minister after Mr. Medvedev takes the presidential oath on May 7.
For the Russian people, the Medvedev-Putin team is a guarantee of stability, continuity, and rejuvenation of their country. The combination of Mr. Medvedev’s youth and Mr. Putin’s experience makes them a ‘dream team’ that will lend new dynamism to Russia’s further resurgence. Under Mr. Putin’s stewardship, the economy has flourished and people’s incomes have doubled and Russia has reasserted itself as a global power. The protégé has pledged to pursue the main goals of his mentor’s vision for Russia’s economic and social development and to embark on the next stage in the strategy of democratic modernisation, known as the ‘Putin plan.’ This calls for reforming the country’s energy-dependent economy through diversification into science-based industries; reducing the involvement of the state in the economy; and tackling the high level of corruption. In recent speeches, Mr. Medvedev has focussed on the tasks of increasing life expectancy, improving healthcare and education, and raising people’s standards of living. He has highlighted the need for more political freedom, an independent judiciary, independent public television, a strong multi-party system, and parliamentary oversight of the executive branch. This hardly suggests an authoritarian agenda. India in particular should welcome the President-elect’s pledge to continue Mr. Putin’s “independent foreign policy,” which has, in recent years, seen the consolidation of the Indo-Russian strategic partnership.