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Medvedev Defends Putin Return, Cites Obama-Clinton Rivalry

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said in the interview, “We represent, in fact, one and the same political force.” Photographer: Dmitry Astakhov/AFP/Getty Images

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev defended backing Prime Minister Vladimir Putin last week, likening it to then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s endorsement of Barack Obama after a 16-month campaign in 2008.

“Can we imagine such a situation when Barack Obama would compete with Hillary Clinton?” Medvedev said in an interview with the country’s three biggest television channels, according to a transcript e-mailed by the Kremlin. “They are both from the Democratic Party and they took a decision based on who can bring the best result. We too made such a decision.”

Medvedev, 46, had never held an elected post before Putin picked the younger man as his successor after serving the legal limit of two consecutive terms. Medvedev agreed Sept. 24 to swap places with Putin after March presidential elections as part of an arrangement his predecessor said was made “several years ago.”

Clinton and Obama each won about 18 million votes in a cross-country competition in caucuses and primaries in 2008. Obama clinched the nomination on June 3, and Clinton soon after pledged to support him. Obama defeated his Republican rival John McCain in November that year.

‘Tough Competition’

“Everybody knows there was a tough competition between Obama and Hillary Clinton,” said Fyodor Lukyanov, an analyst at the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy in Moscow. “This is the whole point of politics. There was nothing like this in Russia”

Medvedev, who was asked by Putin to lead the ruling United Russia’s party list into December parliamentary elections, said he was prepared to lead the government should the party perform well in the Dec. 4 vote. The president said today that he won’t conduct a “separate” election campaign to maintain focus on his work as head of state.

“People have to judge the president and the government by what they have done,” Medvedev said. “If they think that the authorities have stumbled off course, they will vote differently. That is also democracy.”

Medvedev, a former corporate lawyer, said political continuity is needed even as he promised “a serious renovation” of the government.

‘Pear Tree’

“You cannot shake the government as if it were a pear tree,” Medvedev said, adding that the Cabinet will be “drastically renewed” if he is put in charge.

Medvedev fired Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin four days ago after the country’s second-longest serving minister criticized the president for allocating 2.1 trillion rubles ($65 billion) in additional defense spending through 2014 and creating further risks for the nation’s economy.

Kudrin’s departure is simply a case of “state discipline, nothing more,” Medvedev said.

Medvedev defended the country’s electoral process, saying the choice is made by the people. “Any public figure can let an election slip away, together with his political movement,” he said.

The president stepped aside in Putin’s favor because he was swayed by his predecessor’s higher popularity. The prime minister is “the most authoritative politician in our country and his rating is somewhat higher,” Medvedev said, adding that the two leaders share views on “most strategic issues” and represent “one and the same political force.”

Putin, Stalin

Putin, 58, who was president from 2000 to 2008, may potentially rule for another two six-year terms and become the country’s longest-serving leader since Josef Stalin.

Medvedev’s approval rating fell to the lowest level on record last month, dropping to 42 percent, 3 percentage points behind Putin, according to a poll released by the Public Opinion Foundation.

Russia averaged 7 percent growth a year during Putin’s presidency. Gross domestic product grew 4 percent last year after tumbling a record 7.8 percent in 2009, the country’s worst recession on record.

The prior agreement with Putin about which of them will run for president in 2012 was contingent on people’s “electoral preferences changing for some reason,” Medvedev said today. He didn’t publicly rule out another bid for himself in the months before the United Russia congress because “life could have taken a most unexpected turn.”

Medvedev’s comments show his failure as a politician, Nikolai Petrov, a political analyst at the Carnegie Center in Moscow, said by phone.

“It’s hard to be an actor sitting on a throne and assuming the symbols of power which in fact he does not have,” Petrov said. “He was not a politician and did not become one, unfortunately.”

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