Russian elections bring little change



By Vladimir Isachenkov

MOSCOW – Dmitry Medvedev, the man Vladimir Putin hand-picked to be his successor, scored a crushing victory in Russia’s presidential elections Sunday, a result that was long anticipated but that still raises questions about who will run this resurgent global power.

With ballots from two-thirds of the polling stations counted, Medvedev had 69 percent of the vote, according to the Central Election Commission. Communist Party chief Gennady Zyuganov had 18 percent, it said.

Medvedev was on course to win about 70 percent, according to a poll by the All-Russia Opinion Research Center, or VTsIOM.

He is expected to rule in concert with his mentor, an arrangement that could see Putin calling the shots despite his constitutionally subordinate position as Russia’s prime minister.

Medvedev, 42, the youngest Russian ruler since the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, is expected to heed Putin’s advice, continue his assertive course with the West, maintain state control over Russia’s mineral riches and freeze out real opposition movements.

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“We will increase stability, improve the quality of life and move forward on the path we have chosen,” Medvedev said Sunday, appearing alongside Putin at a celebration at the Red Square outside the Kremlin. “We will be able to preserve the course of President Putin.”

Putin said Medvedev “has taken a firm lead” and congratulated his protege.

“Such a victory carries a lot of obligations,” Putin said. “This victory will serve as a guarantee that the course we have chosen, the successful course we have been following over the past eight years, will be continued.”

Medvedev ran against three rivals apparently permitted on the ballot because of their loyalty to the Kremlin line. But the two candidates – Zyuganov and ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky – still alleged violations after the voting ended.

Zyuganov said he would dispute the result, and Zhirinovsky threatened to do so as well, before backing down.

Some voters complained of pressure to cast ballots for Medvedev, and critics called the election a cynical stage show to ensure unbroken rule by Putin and his allies.

Sunday’s vote came after a tightly controlled campaign and months of political maneuvering by Putin, who appeared determined to keep a strong hand on Russia’s reins while maintaining the basic trappings of electoral democracy.

Associated Press writers Mike Eckel, Mansur Mirovalev, Maria Danilova and Peter Leonard contributed to this report.