Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Head of Russian Armed Forces To Quit: Reports


MOSCOW - The Russian armed forces chief of staff is close to stepping down after falling out with the defense minister, media reports in Moscow said March 25.

Gen. Yury Baluyevsky has already tendered his resignation to President Vladimir Putin, the English language daily Moscow Times said, citing an unnamed ministry source. The source said Baluyevsky had previously asked to be relieved of his post at least once, but had been refused.

Baluyevsky has been angered by a series of reforms pushed by Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov, according to Russian media. Serdyukov was appointed last year.

"In the near future, the defense ministry's chief of staff, Yury Baluyevsky, will probably leave," news site reported March 25.

A former furniture dealer, Serdyukov is the second civilian to head Russia's armed forces.

He has ruffled feathers in the ministry with plans to sell off assets, move the navy headquarters from Moscow to Saint Petersburg and with calls for job cuts in the ministry.

The row comes at a sensitive period in Russian politics. Putin is preparing to hand over to his successor Dmitry Medvedev in May, and Moscow is in a stand-off with Western countries over NATO expansion and U.S. plans for a European missile defense shield.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Crackdown on Kremlin foes, business, despite Medvedev's promises of change

The Associated Press

MOSCOW: Dmitry Medvedev, Russia's president-elect, has preached freedom and the rule of law, and raised hopes for an end to government pressure on opposition leaders, rights advocates and businesses whose assets the Kremlin wants to control.

But events of past weeks are adding to mounting suspicions that Medvedev's presidency may not be all that different from that of his steely-eyed predecessor — Vladimir Putin.

Since Medvedev's election on March 2, authorities have continued to crack down on human rights activists and political critics. Nor did the election halt the targeting of foreign firms that control major Russian assets, like the British-Russian joint venture TNK-BP.

What is not clear is to what extent the events reflect the continuing influence of Putin and his allies or Medvedev's silent support for Putin's policies.

"Medvedev today is Putin yesterday. There is no change in the regime whatsoever," veteran human rights campaigner Lev Ponomaryev said.

Authorities in the central city of Nizhny Novgorod on Thursday seized computer servers of a longtime campaigner against rights abuses in Chechnya. Stanislav Dmitriyevsky, who has been repeatedly targeted for arrest, said the seizure coincided with searches at apartments of several activists from the Other Russia coalition.

In Russia's second largest city, St. Petersburg, a leader of the liberal political party Yabloko was jailed for nearly three weeks for allegedly interfering with police in a case supporters said was tied to his work organizing an opposition conference. A court on Friday ordered Maxim Reznik's release pending trial.

Officials also have searched the party's St. Petersburg headquarters looking for materials that allegedly could be considered extremist — a broad legal term that activists say is used for politically motivated prosecutions.

Other groups report similar pressure. Oleg Kozlovsky, who says he was drafted into the army because of his work with the activist group Oborona, told Ekho Moskvy radio that authorities were trying to evict him from his Moscow apartment, in retaliation for his activities.

Investigators continue to press their case against Mikhail Kasyanov, the former prime minister who was denied a spot on the presidential ballot. Officials accuse him of falsifying signatures on nominating petitions, and his supporters say authorities plans to file criminal charges in an effort to discredit him.

"We've seen in this last two months what the freedom (Medvedev) talks about really means," Andrei Illarionov, a former economic adviser to Putin and now a prominent critic, told reporters Thursday. "Are there any examples of real actions, not just words, that someone can use as proof that Medvedev is a liberal person, economically, politically or over civil rights?"

Medvedev has been credited with supporting more liberal economic and business policies. He reportedly supported, for example, easing restrictions in a bill to limit foreign ownership of Russian publishing companies and Internet providers.

But Medvedev also heads the gas giant OAO Gazprom, the state-controlled monopoly that has continued to play hardball tactics in negotiations over contracts to supply Ukraine with natural gas. Europe, which gets most of its Russian gas via Ukrainian pipeline, has accused Russia of using its energy assets as a political tool.

On Thursday, Russia's top security agency announced that two brothers with dual Russian-U.S. citizenship had been charged with industrial espionage involving Russian oil and gas fields. One of the brothers works for TNK-BP, the British-Russian joint venture whose Siberian fields are coveted by Kremlin-allied business interests.

In recent years, the government has used regulatory and criminal investigations to pressure major energy companies into ceding assets to state-controlled companies.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrei Krivtsov tried to tamp speculation that the arrest of the TNK-BP worker was linked to troubled ties between Moscow and London. "There's no sense in searching for links between events that are in no way connected to each other," he was quoted by RIA-Novosti as saying.

Many, particularly in the West, pointed to Medvedev's background — lawyer, university professor, business executive — hoping that the Kremlin's hard-line domestic and foreign policies might soften with his election.

In a pre-election speech, Medvedev promised to champion media freedom, strengthen the judicial system and reform criminal legislation. He returned to those themes Wednesday in an address before the Public Chamber, an advisory body created by the Kremlin.

"A mature civil society is a vital necessity, a foundation, a guarantee of stable development of our nation," he said. "And our task is to create a system when civil society groups participate in setting the government course and assessing its efficiency."

Some observers wonder if Medvedev is just paying lip service to liberal ideals. Putin himself has warned that the West should not expect Medvedev to be a more compliant partner.

Medvedev won't formally take the reins of power until after his May 7 inauguration, and any change in Kremlin policies and practices — if they come — may come only gradually, and only after Medvedev installs his own team in positions of power.

But Putin is expected to become prime minister, and it remains to be seen whether Medvedev will try to alter his predecessor's course. To do so, he may have to dislodge the siloviki — veterans, like Putin, of the intelligence, police and military services — whom Putin has installed in positions of power.

Meanwhile, debate is growing among Russia's often fractious opposition groups as to how to continue their fight under Medvedev.

Ponomaryev predicted the Kremlin will seek to create a puppet opposition to create the appearance of a political counterbalance and quiet critics. That theory was bolstered earlier this month by a rare public meeting between Putin and Grigory Yavlinsky, the leader of the national Yabloko party who, like other opposition figures, has been shut out of politics.

Some opposition groups berated Yavlinsky, who defended himself by saying he raised Reznik's arrest with Putin.

"There is a crisis among the opposition," said Garry Kasparov, the former chess champion who has waged a determined, though largely ineffectual campaign against Putin. "A party that considers itself to be in opposition ought to behave in quite a different manner."

Friday, March 14, 2008

Medvedev Moves to Kremlin Early

MOSCOW (AP) — He will not be president for weeks, but Dmitry Medvedev has already moved into an office in the Kremlin — the seat of power in Russia.

State-run television showed Medvedev dressing down officials in a Kremlin office Thursday, and the Kremlin press service confirmed that he is now working from an office in the red-brick-walled compound at Moscow's heart rather than Russia's less grandiose government headquarters upriver.

Medvedev, President Vladimir Putin's hand-picked successor, was elected by a large margin March 2 and is scheduled to be inaugurated May 7. The popular Putin is set to become his prime minister, prompting widespread speculation about who will really hold Russia's reins.

The office move looked like part of an effort to create the impression of a smooth transition and boost Medvedev's authority in the eyes of the public and officials used to working for Putin.

Medvedev won more than 70 percent of the votes, according to the official election tally, but Russians saw his victory as a foregone conclusion because of his backing from Putin and the Kremlin in a closely choreographed election. The sense that he was chosen to lead Russians, rather than vice versa, could take the edge off his authority.

State-run television footage of Medvedev's talks with two top officials involved in fishing and ports marked the more soft-spoken former law instructor's latest attempt to embody the firm, powerful image Putin has conveyed in meetings with sometimes squirming officials called to the Kremlin to report to their leader.

Facing the two officials from behind a sizable desk with three telephones at his side, Medvedev grilled them about orders he said they had failed to carry out on time. One of the officials was shown looking down at the desk in front of his and nervously scratching his forehead.

A presidential press service official who refused to be quoted by name, citing policy, would not say when Medvedev had moved into the Kremlin.

She said the change was provided for by a decree Putin signed the day after the election to provide Medvedev with support from the Kremlin staff and other trappings of the presidency.

On that day, Putin, 55, also put the 42-year-old Medvedev in charge of presidential State Council meetings, a symbolic show of trust in his younger protege who has made continuity of Putin's policies his chief promise.

Monday, March 10, 2008

The Trouble with Russia

By Herbert E. Meyer

Each year a group of KGB Commissars would get together for a weekend of bear hunting. A helicopter would fly them to a clearing deep in the forest, leave them with their guns and camping gear, then pick them up two days later.

Now the hunting weekend has ended, and the Commissars are waiting in the clearing with their equipment and with the carcasses of three bears. The helicopter swoops in and lands, the pilot steps out and takes one look at the waiting cargo.

"Comrade Commissars," the pilot says. "I'm sorry, but I cannot take all three bears on board. The helicopter can carry only two. Please decide which one you wish to leave behind."

Two Commissars grab the pilot's arms, while a third slaps the pilot hard across his face and says, "Captain, this is precisely what you told us last year. As you no doubt will remember, that led to an unpleasant afternoon of beatings and threats against your family if you didn't take all three bears on board. In the end, you did as we ordered. Surely it won't be necessary to repeat all that again?"

The pilot nods glumly, then gets busy loading everything on board and they take off.

Ten minutes later the helicopter crashes. One of the Commissars is killed, and another has two broken legs. A third Commissar crawls out from the wreckage and drags himself over to the dazed pilot, who is lying on the ground nearby. The Commissar slaps the pilot across his face, sits him up and asks, "Captain, where are we?"

The pilot looks around and says, "Same place we crashed last year."

In the Cold War years we learned a great deal about KGB Commissars, and it turns out they all share the same two qualities: They are thugs -- and they are incapable of learning from experience.

Vladimir Putin has the heart and soul of a KGB Commissar -- which, of course, he once was. He's a thug, and he's learned nothing from his country's history. So he's driving Russia into the same ditch the communists drove it into back in the twentieth century. He's creating a one-party dictatorship in which the country's wealth will be owned or controlled by the State. Like all dictators, he's trying to gin up a foreign enemy -- that would be us -- to justify his domestic policies. And he's embarking on a course to achieve his communist predecessors' dream of imposing a sort of Pax Sovietica on the world.

The rigged election of Dmitri Medvedev as Russia's president on March 2 was, of course, merely window-dressing to show that Putin is obeying his country's constitution by limiting himself to two consecutive four-year terms. Putin himself will take the lesser post of prime minister, but there's no doubt he's the man in charge. The general assumption is that Putin will return to the presidency when Medvedev's term expires, or sooner should the presidency become vacant before then. (A friendly word of advice for President Medvedev: Get yourself a food-taster, and send a flunky out each morning to start the car.)

Russia's Three Objectives

All this means trouble for us -- at least in the short term. That's because Russia now has three global objectives, and in the coming years it will move fast to achieve them all:

First, Russia wants to position itself not merely as a leading supplier of energy, but as leader of the world's energy-suppliers. Given its own vast reserves of oil, natural gas and coal, Russia today is growing rich as a major energy provider in Europe. But now Russia is reaching out for raw materials beyond its own borders; for example Gazprom, the Kremlin-controlled energy giant, is actively bidding for the rights to develop Nigeria's vast and untapped natural gas reserves. And diplomatically, Moscow is maneuvering in the Mideast and with Venezuela's Hugo Chavez to effectively transfer the leadership of OPEC to the Kremlin.

Second, Russia wants to get back control of what it calls the "near-abroad" - those countries that once were part of the Soviet Union and now are independent. This includes Ukraine and Georgia, whose current instabilities are due, in large part, to Moscow's meddling. It includes the Baltic countries and also Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. And down the road it may well include countries like Romania and even Poland. Putin and his Kremlin team probably won't launch a direct military attack. Why should they, if they can gain control of the "near-abroad" nations by working covertly to ensure that Moscow's friends win elections or, when that fails, by covertly undermining freely elected governments. Their objective is a de facto restoration of the old Soviet Union, under the Kremlin's leadership.

Third, Russia wants a global veto. In other words, Russia wants a world in which nothing of consequence will happen -- such as treaties, trade agreements, regional military alliances, or wars -- unless Russia approves. Russia's quest for a global veto reflects the single most striking difference between it and the United States. While we struggle to lead, Russia wishes merely to obstruct. Alas, today there are a lot of countries -- including ones that we Americans like to think of as allies -- whose primary foreign-policy objective is to weaken the US. They are as frightened by our economic productivity and our technological prowess as by our military strength and, whether or not it makes sense, they want to see the US brought low. Russia will maneuver to unify and lead this effort.

With episodes such as Medvedev's rigged election, last year's natural-gas cut-offs to Ukraine and Georgia, the ongoing diplomatic rows with Great Britain over extradition and the work of the British cultural missions, its sale of advanced surface-to-air missiles to Iran, its deliberately provocative flyovers by long-range bombers of Western territories and US naval formations -- and the untimely, violent deaths of so many Kremlin critics -- a clear picture of what Russia will be like to deal with in the coming years has already developed: it will be brutal, surly, petulant, and generally a pain in the civilized world's rear-end.

How to Deal with Russia

The question is: What should we do about Russia? And the answer is: We should treat Russia as though it were a condition to be endured, rather than a problem to be solved. Dealing with Russia in the coming years will be like dealing with a chronic bad back. Mostly you ignore it and go about your business despite the occasional flare-up; sometimes the pain becomes so intense you've got to gulp down a couple of pills, or a shot of whiskey, and then lie down until the pain subsides; and over time you learn that there are some activities which -- no matter how tempting -- you really must avoid.

Simply put, we should do whatever we think is in our country's best interests and pay as little attention to Russia as possible. Of course, Russia will always be there -- rather like a bad back. This means that everything we try to accomplish -- stabilizing the Mideast, deploying a missile-defense shield, assuring the flow of energy to consumers worldwide and all the rest -- will he harder, take longer, and cost more. Too bad for us, and for the civilized world, but that's just the way it's going to be in the years that lie ahead.

It sounds odd to say this, but a sense of humor will help enormously. That's because Putin's Russia, unlike the old Soviet Union, is thin-skinned and simply cannot stand to be ridiculed. For instance, a few months ago the Russians sent a submarine below the North Pole, dropped a Russian flag to the ocean floor -- and then declared that by doing so they had established sovereignty over the Arctic Ocean and its vast mineral wealth. Then some genius pointed out that if planting a flag conveys sovereignty -- the US owns the moon. We haven't heard a word since from the Kremlin about its claims to the Arctic.

Unfortunately, it won't always be possible to determine in advance just which US policies and initiatives are going to cause minor flare-ups, and which are going to cause excruciating pain. This will be a trial-and-error sort of process in which experience, common sense and good judgment will be not merely helpful, but necessary. (For instance, let us not be too surprised if our support for an independent Kosovo, over Russia's strenuous objections, turns out to ignite a more serious conflagration than we're expecting; it was Russia's total and inflexible support for Serbia in 1914 that started World War I.)

Our efforts to keep Iran's mullahs from getting their hands on nuclear weapons will likely bring us into serous conflict with Russia, and it will take all the fortitude and skill our next President can muster to keep this conflict diplomatic rather than military. But in the years to come the real focus of our trouble with Russia will be -- as usual -- western Europe. And -- as usual -- the Europeans won't be helpful to us. Today they are as frightened by a cut-off of Russian energy supplies as they used to be by a Soviet missile attack. As the continent's economic power wanes, and as its demographic problems mount, Europe wishes merely to be affluently comfortable as it continues its descent into history. Our so-called allies will always take the path of least resistance, and we can safely assume that their fear of Russia, and their lust for money, will exceed their courage to face down Russia or to side with us to keep Western civilization moving forward.

Indeed, this is already happening. As the dollar slides down against the Euro, American tourism is dropping fast and so are American purchases of European products. Today the European hospitality and luxury-goods industries are actively re-orienting their marketing campaigns from American tourists and consumers to Russia's emerging, energy-enriched middle class. (You can see the impact of this re-orientation as you pass through the airports in London, Paris and Rome. You are fairly engulfed by Russian tourists and shoppers -- in their designer clothes, with their Gucci luggage and their gold Rolex watches, and loaded with purchases from Europe's swishiest shops -- as they curse at you and muscle their way past you to the front of the security line. And the Russian men are even nastier.)

The Cold War Won't Return

Although our relations with Russia won't be pleasant -- to say the least -- there isn't going to be a second Cold War. Despite booming energy revenues that are now spreading wealth throughout much of Russian society, the country is dying. Literally. Today the average life span of a Russian male is under 58 years of age; that puts Russia in the Haiti-Bangladesh category, and nowhere near the modern-industrial-world level. Moreover, because the birth rate in Russia is just 1.3 (the replacement level is 2.1) today the number of deaths in Russia vastly exceeds the number of births. Indeed, today in Russia the number of abortions exceeds the number of births. The country's population is dropping fast, from about 143 million now to about 110 million in 2050.

Russia covers nearly one-sixth of the earth's land surface. There simply won't be enough working-age Russians to keep things going and to support the country's huge aging population. Even now -- and with very little publicity -- just like the countries in western Europe Russia is relying heavily on imported workers to keep the place going. For example, several million Kazakhs and Uzbeks are now doing the menial but vital jobs in Russia that other Moslems are doing today in, say, France, Italy and Germany. More importantly, in the coming decades there won't be a sufficient number of young Russian males to sustain the kind of army Russia will require to defend its far-flung borders.

Finally, Russia seems once again to have an chosen economic model that just isn't compatible with achieving and sustaining global power. In effect, Russia wants to become a sort of snowy Saudi Arabia in the sense that it will rely for its wealth on energy exports, rather than on the entrepreneurial talents and technical prowess of its people. And Russia's approach to industrial modernization cannot possibly deliver the kind of long-term productivity gains that drive economic success in today's fast-moving, technology-driven world. For example, the giant Russian automaker GAZ just purchased an entire factory from Daimler-Chrysler that is already 15 years' obsolete. Russian productivity inevitably will fall further and further behind US productivity, which means that despite its energy revenues Russia won't be able to sustain the kind of decades-long, high-tech military competition that a second Cold War would require. And if the US and its allies ever get serious about developing alternate energy sources Russia -- like Saudi Arabia -- will be finished.

While the Putin regime means short-term trouble for us, it also means that another long-term tragedy is looming for the Russian people. Once again, they are living in a police state. Even now, the Kremlin is busily re-building the dreaded Gulag and packing it with Russians whose only crime has been to oppose Putin or to speak out publicly against the dictatorship he and his cronies are tightening every day. And If you're wondering why Russia has squandered the historic opportunity it had to join the civilized world when the Soviet Union collapsed back in 1991, the answer is depressingly simple: Countries are like people; some learn from their mistakes and move on, while others keep making the same mistake over and over again.

Genius in the Genome

The only good thing to emerge from Russia's bleak future will come from the humor, courage, and astounding genius that lie deep within the Russian genome, and that only adversity brings to the surface. Russia's next generation of dissidents will give the world yet another collection of poems and novels that will become among the twenty-first century's greatest works of literature. With a bit of luck, we may even get another bunch of those marvelous Russian jokes in which the individual is always defeated by the boundless, pitiless stupidity of the State.

The patriotic young lieutenant joined the KGB to protect the Motherland from its enemies. But he's having his doubts. Could all these people he's been arresting, torturing, sending to the Gulag and shooting really be foreign spies?

Unknown to the lieutenant, he's being carefully watched by the KGB Commissar in charge of his unit. The wise and experienced Commissar understands that his lieutenant is young and idealistic -- just as he once was. Indeed, the Commissar himself sometimes thinks the regime goes too far. But he has long since learned not to question his Kremlin masters, and instead to devote his energies to rooting out the State's enemies wherever they may be hiding. One afternoon the Commissar invites the young lieutenant for a drink after work.

Now the two officers are sitting in a bar, with their tunics unbuttoned, their ties loosened, drinks in one hand and cigarettes in the other. After a few pleasant moments talking about sports and women, the Commissar leans across the table and speaks very quietly.

"Lieutenant," he says, not unkindly. "I know you're having doubts about our system. At your age, so did I. Sometimes even now I think we go too far. But our enemies are everywhere among us, and to protect our beloved Motherland we must be vigilant and ruthless."

"Thank you for confiding in me, Comrade Commissar," the lieutenant says gratefully. "I want to assure you that my views are precisely the same as yours."

"In that case," the Commissar replies, with a sigh, "I arrest you on a charge of anti-Party deviationism."

Monday, March 3, 2008

Medvedev quick to signal hardline intent

By Neil Buckley and Catherine Belton in Moscow and Roman Olearchyk in Kiev (Financial Time)

Russia signalled on Monday it was set to continue its hardline approach to opposition and the west under Dmitry Medvedev, its new president, as it cut gas supplies to Ukraine and police detained demonstrators in Moscow.

The moves came just hours after Mr Medvedev, who took 70.2 per cent of the vote in Sunday’s election, said he would take charge of Russian foreign policy after his May 7 inauguration, but pledged to continue the course of his mentor, President Vladimir Putin.

Several hundred members of pro-Kremlin youth groups including Nashi, or “Our Own”, also marched towards the US embassy in Moscow to protest over US foreign policy towards Kosovo and Iraq. The youths carried slogans including “Russia Forward” and “We will stand beside our country”.

Western capitals have seized on Mr Medvedev’s reputation as a comparative liberal among the Russian leadership as providing hope of an improvement in relations, which have sharply cooled under Mr Putin.

But Monday’s actions sent contradictory signals as some western leaders attempted to reach out to the Russian president-elect. Gordon Brown, UK prime minister, congratulated Mr Medvedev on his victory in spite of recent tensions between the two countries, but stopped short of inviting Mr Medvedev to London.

A spokesman for Angela Merkel, German chancellor, said “democratic and constitutional principles were not always complied with” in the election. But officials in her office said Ms Merkel planned to go to Moscow for a few hours on Saturday to meet Mr Medvedev, whom she does not know well.

That meeting, however, will take place against the backdrop of the second energy standoff between Russia and Ukraine since 2006, when gas supplies to Europe were dented during a price dispute. Gazprom, the Russian gas monopoly that Mr Medvedev still chairs, cut gas deliveries because of unpaid bills.

Sergei Kupriyanov, a Gazprom spokesman, insisted shipments to Europe would not be affected, but said Ukraine had failed to pay $600m (€395m, £302m) for 1.9bn cubic metres of gas received this year. He said Gazprom was a reliable supplier “but we cannot and should not supply gas without payment”.

While officials and some analysts attempted to portray the move as purely about money, critics suggested its timing sent a message that little had changed in Russia as a result of the presidential campaign.

So, too, did a swoop by hundreds of riot police on dozens of opposition protesters attempting to hold a rally that had not been sanctioned by the authorities. Nikita Belykh, leader of the liberal Union of Right Forces party, was among up to 50 people eyewitnesses said they saw being detained.

Vladimir Ryzhkov, a former independent member of Russia’s parliament who lost his seat because of rule changes last year, said talk of a possible “thaw” under Mr Medvedev was misleading.

“This is one team, it’s a very close team,” he said. “I want to remind you that Medvedev has been in senior posts in Russia for the last eight years and took part in all the major decisions.”

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Medvedev Wins; Vows to uphold Putin's legacy

By Christian Lowe

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia's next president Dmitry Medvedev pledged to uphold Vladimir Putin's policies on Monday after winning an election critics said was stage-managed to let the outgoing Kremlin leader keep his grip on power.

Displaying the double act that will be at the helm in Russia, Medvedev's first public appearance after the result became clear was to stand side by side with his mentor Putin on stage at a Red Square concert to thank his supporters.

Medvedev, who will be the youngest Russian leader since Tsar Nicholas II when he is sworn in on May 7, has asked former KGB spy Putin to be his prime minister. Putin, 55, was prevented by term limits from running for re-election.

But it is still not clear which of the two would really be in charge of the vast, nuclear-armed country as their power-sharing arrangement is unusual for a nation used to a single, strong leader.

Many Russians are enjoying the benefits of the biggest economic boom in a generation -- fuelled largely by oil exports -- and they see Medvedev as the natural heir to Putin and the best chance of hanging on to their new-found prosperity.

Kremlin opponents called Sunday's election a one-sided farce after near-complete results showed Medvedev had won just under 70 percent of the vote, even though he did not take part in a single campaign debate.

"This is a secret service KGB operation to transfer power from one person to another," former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, who was disqualified from the ballot, told Reuters.

Medvedev said his presidency would be a "direct continuation" of Putin's eight years in office -- a period marked by a single-minded concentration of power in the Kremlin and a willingness to stand up to the West on foreign policy.

But the 42-year-old former law professor who has spent most of his working life in Putin's shadow made clear he would not let his powerful prime minister encroach on his authority.

"The president's main office is in the Kremlin. The prime minister's permanent location is the White House (government headquarters)," he told reporters at his campaign headquarters.


Medvedev signaled Russia under his presidency would not abandon its tough positions on issues such as Kosovo and Washington's plans for a missile shield in Eastern Europe that have put Moscow at odds with the West.

"We should pursue independent foreign policies, the ones we had in the past eight years, with the main goal of protecting our national interests on all fronts by all possible means, but of course sticking to ... legal rules," Medvedev said.

In a further sign Russia was not softening its assertive foreign policy, state-controlled gas giant Gazprom was preparing to reduce supplies to pro-Western neighbor Ukraine at 0700 GMT on Monday over a debt dispute.

Kremlin officials said the fact the election was one-sided did not mean it was unfair. Election chiefs said they knew of no violations that would put the result in doubt.

Western observers monitoring the vote were expected to give an unflattering verdict later on Monday. They have already called the contest unfair because of the blanket television coverage enjoyed by Medvedev.

Civil society groups said millions of public sector workers were coerced into voting for Medvedev in Sunday's election, some on pain of losing their jobs.

Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton said Russia's election "marks a milestone in that country's retreat from democracy ... The Russian people have been denied the opportunity to choose their leaders".

But the criticism from abroad and the small band of Kremlin opponents at home were out of step with the views held by most Russian voters.

"Russia is going through a renaissance and I want the country to continue along this path," said Ismail Uzhakhov, 53, head of a collective farm in the southern Russian region of Ingushetia.