Sun, Feb 03, 2008 - Page 6 News List

Possible Putin successor introduced to the Cossacks

AP , ROSTOV-ON-DON, RUSSIA

Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev attends a meeting in Novocherkassk outside Rostov-on-Don, about 1,000km south of Moscow, Russia, on Friday.

PHOTO: AP

Dmitry Medvedev, the man who seems destined to be Russia's next president, came to the heartland of the Cossacks on Friday in an apparent bid by the bookish lawyer to impress Russia's legendary warrior caste.

Medvedev, 42, toured the Cossack Aksay Military School with Russian President Vladimir Putin, touring classrooms and chatting with students.

Officially, the visit was part of Medvedev's duties as a first deputy prime minister.

But it also seemed designed to introduce Medvedev to the Cossacks, whose traditional culture is synonymous with patriotism and piety in Russia, and to persuade voters in general that the soft-spoken, scholarly candidate has what it takes to be president.

The Cossacks are renowned for their military skills, especially their horsemanship.

"Zdorovo dnevali?" Putin asked a classroom of 16 cadets, using an archaic form of the Russian language still spoken by some Cossacks. The phrase can be translated as: "Do you like it here?"

"Praise God!" the cadets responded in unison.

Medvedev has appeared frequently in recent days with Putin.

The powerful incumbent named Medvedev as his choice as a successor in December, virtually guaranteeing his election in the March 2 ballot.

Medvedev has said he would name Putin as his prime minister. The Russian Constitution prevents Putin from serving a third consecutive term.

Later on Friday, Putin and Medvedev were scheduled to attend lavish receptions, staged by local political and Cossack leaders, in a manner reminiscent of the pomp that once marked visits by Russia's Czars.

At one of these galas, Putin was expected to introduce Medvedev to the leaders of four of the Cossack's largest groups -- those who are living in the Don, Gur, Orenburg and Kuban regions.

In the past, Medvedev has rarely discussed military matters. He is currently in charge of Russia's so-called "national projects" -- the Kremlin's effort to spend some of Russia's billions in oil tax revenue to rebuild the country's health care and educational systems, and shore up its social services.

Medvedev has also served as Russia's friendly face to the West, soothing the nerves of both foreign and domestic investors concerned about some of the tough-talking Putin's sharper criticism of Europe and, especially, the US.

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