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Cablegate: Medvedev Takes Presidential Oath

VZCZCXRO7374
PP RUEHBW RUEHLN RUEHPOD RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHMO #1278/01 1281242
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 071242Z MAY 08
FM AMEMBASSY MOSCOW
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 7940
INFO RUCNCIS/CIS COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHXD/MOSCOW POLITICAL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 MOSCOW 001278

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PHUM PINR RS SOCI
SUBJECT: MEDVEDEV TAKES PRESIDENTIAL OATH

Summary
-------

1. (SBU) Presidential power passed from Putin to Medvedev at
the stroke of noon today. The simple but majestic ceremony
of oath-taking took place in the Kremlin's ornate
Andreyevskiy Hall before two thousand of the political elite.
Putin gave his farewell address, using the occasion for a
final victory lap that touted his accomplishments, publicly
reminded Medvedev to stay the "already chosen course" for the
country's development, and ambiguously pledged to "look out
for Russia" for the "rest of his life." Medvedev's brief
inauguration speech hit all the right notes, as he pledged
himself to protecting the citizenry's rights and freedoms,
providing security, and promoting respect for the law as the
overriding goals of his presidency. Ultimately two images -
that of Medvedev's solo triumphal march down the red carpet
as Russia's new president and then of the "tandem" leadership
receiving the salute of the Presidential guard - capture the
innate tension in this period of transitional power, sending
mixed messages to the population and the global audience
about the shape of politics to come.

Invitation Only
---------------

2. (SBU) Pomp and pageantry harkening back to an Imperial
past exemplified Medvedev's inauguration, like that of
Yeltsin and Putin before him. With a ceremony held in the
magnificent Kremlin palace, bedecked with red carpet and
ramrod-stiff sentries, Medvedev's "coronation" boasted all
of the symbols of traditional Russian power save the crown of
Monomakh - 30-gun salute, a parade by infantry and cavalry
soldiers, the ornate Presidential Seal, and the celebratory
service at the Annunciation Cathedral. (We have not yet seen
a public sign that the final symbol of power - the nuclear
suitcase - has been passed to Medvedev as Commander in Chief.
In the previous transitions, television reports provided
evidence that Gorbachev and Yeltsin had relinquished control
within hours of the inauguration.) And, as in the imperial
court, today's rituals were performed primarily for the
political elite - indeed, the normally bustling Red Square
and nearby thoroughfares stood eerily empty, as the
authorities closed traffic in central Moscow for the event.

3. (SBU) Approximately 2,000 members of the political class
witnessed the handover of presidential power: legislators,
judges, government bureaucrats, regional leaders, and the
diplomatic corps. For some, including then Premier Zubkov,
the inauguration marked the end of their tenure in office -
as required by the constitution, the entire government
proffered their resignations as Putin left power.
Presidential spouses played only a minor role, with a haggard
Mrs. Putin and a beaming Mrs. Medvedev relegated to the
sidelines. (A stately Mrs. Yeltsin was among the guests as
well.)

Medvedev: Protecting Freedom, Fighting Legal Nihilism
--------------------------------------------- --------

4. (SBU) A confident Medvedev gave a short, two-minute
inaugural address that hammered home his electoral platform
of protecting the rights of the citizenry, promoting respect
for the law, and facilitating economic innovation and growth.
Improving the effectiveness of Russia's legal system, he
noted, would improve the country's economic and social life,
allow for greater entrepreneurship, and strike a blow in the
fight against corruption. Moreover, Medvedev said that
adherence to the rule of law would help to strengthen
Russia's role in the international community - perhaps an
implicit acknowledgment that Moscow's standing had been
undermined by its failure to establish a more
institutionalized legal system. To achieve his ends, he
committed himself to working with all "responsible" political
forces, civil society organizations, and regional leaders.

5. (SBU) Medvedev closed his speech with his personal
commitment to protecting Russian interests, both at home and
abroad, as a daily, even hourly responsibility. He promised
that he would do "everything possible so that the security of
our citizens is not just guaranteed by the law, but is really
ensured by the state." And lastly, he expressed his
appreciation to Putin for his service as president and for
his personal support over the years.

Putin's Victory Lap
-------------------

6. (SBU) As expected, Putin played a prominent role today,
reading his farewell address at the start of the ceremonies
and afterwards standing alongside Medvedev as he received the

MOSCOW 00001278 002 OF 002


salute of the presidential guard on freedom square. He read
a short address to the nation, in which he patted himself on
the back for leading Russia into a more stable and prosperous
era and then offered his thanks for eight years of support
and trust from the people. Press reports drew attention that
unlike Yeltsin, who after resigning from his post months
before attended his successor's inauguration as an ordinary
citizen, Putin had a more auspicious role to play as
president. Throughout the day, Putin struck a pensive pose,
perhaps self-conscious of his role as the first "current
president" to be present at an inauguration.

7. (SBU) Putin called on the nation to support Medvedev,
seeing his inauguration as an opportunity to unite the
country's political leadership. He charged his successor to
continue the same course of development that "had proven
itself" and was guided by the interests of the citizenry -
essentially a rejoinder for his successor to continue with
"Plan Putin" and the vision of the Russia 2020 agenda. In a
final note that is sure to spark speculation about his plans
for the future, Putin said that the obligation of "looking
after Russia" was the highest civic duty (a probable
reference to Yeltsin's charge to Putin to "look out for
Russia") and promised he would continue to do so for the rest
life.

Comment
-------

8. (SBU) Given the climate of anxiety about the transition,
Medvedev's inauguration will provide grist for the mills of
speculation about the ultimate course of events. That Putin
- a young, healthy, and popular leader - would step down
willingly from the presidency seemed to some an unlikely
scenario this time last year. Today it is a reality.
Putin's prominent role in the ceremony, his "charge" to
Medvedev to stay the course, and the image of the tandem
standing together only minutes after Medvedev's triumphal
solo march as President are sure to feed the theories of
those who see Putin as shifting power to the Premiership.
Others, however, could argue that Putin is only doing what he
promised to do - offering Medvedev the protected space to
grow into the presidency during a period of benign regency.
BURNS

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