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By Ardain IsmaCSMS Magazine Staff WriterIt looked as if a change of the guard took place in Moscow’s Red Square this morning as Russia inaugurated Dmitry Medvedev—its third elected president since the collapse of the Soviet Union. The entire hierarchy was present, including the chief of the Russian Orthodox Church. However, in the shadow of this grandiose ceremony, one man looms eternally: Vladimirovich Putin. As a matter of fact, just two hours after the inauguration, Medvedev made the long awaited official declaration, nominating Putin as the head of the Russian government (Prime Minister)—a position for which everyone believes Putin will easily win confirmation in the Russian Duma. The Duma is the country’s lower house of parliament, which must ratify the nomination.    After having presided over the largest country on earth for 8 years, after mastering all the necessary skills to bring the Russian upper class under his fold, and now after being nominated as the country’s PM, Vladimir Putin has made it clear to his friends and foes alike that he is here to stay. Putin’s official nomination was nothing but an open secret for all Russia watchers knew that it could not have been otherwise. Medvedev was handpicked by Putin himself in order to secure the longevity of Russia’s newfound wealth and the paternity of the nouveaux riches over it. The Bear is clearly in full control, flexing its muscles in Central Asia and forging strategic alliances with China and India in order to starve off NATO expansion toward Russia’s border and the installation of a US missile shield in Poland.     These are some of the major issues that Medvedev now inherits as he takes over as president. But he may not have much to worry about, after all. He has the canopy of Vladimir influence and popularity to sleep or ever snore under. Most Russians think Vladimir has succeeded in retrieving Russia from the brink of disintegration and outright misery and humiliation. The economy is flourishing and the Chechen insurgency has been brutally suppressed with Shamil Basayev, its supreme leader and the enemy number one, is now six feet under.    A huge military parade in Red Square has been planned for this week as a way to display the country’s newest military hardware and, of course, to remind all Russia’s nemeses that the Bear still has iron paws and silver teeth.     With Putin still officially in charge, most analysts think Medvedev will have an easy ride. That is, if he has no problem remaining Putin’s protégé. With the energy prices continue to soar and a gross domestic product of $1.3 trillion and gold reserves exceeding $500 billion, Russia is poised to become one of the top seven world economies in near term. Believe it or not, just like Stalin thought industrializing Russia in the 1930s was a matter of survival, the new Russian elite strongly believes only a strong Russia can earn it its desired respect at home and abroad.    Most if not all Russian oligarchs have long fallen into line since some of the politically-ambitious ones were confronted and tamed, and those who attempted to resist like Vladimir Gusinsky and Boris Berezovsky have paid a heavy price. They lost their businesses and had to flee while Mikhail Khodorkovsky, main shareholder in the YUKOS oil major, was given an eight-year jail term for fraud and tax evasion.In the international front, Russia seems to be making some serious headway. The country signed a long awaited civilian nuclear cooperation pact with the United States yesterday that will allow firms from the world’s two biggest atomic powers to expand bilateral nuclear trade significantly.    This joint agreement will pave the way to legalize the booming U.S. nuclear market and Russia’s vast uranium fields to firms from both countries, something that would have been severely limited and required official consent without such deal. “The potential value of this agreement is the value of all the contracts which could be signed between the two countries’ firms in the nuclear sphere, which is obviously billions of dollars,” confirmed a Russian source.    Sergei Kiriyenko, chief of Russian state nuclear corporation Rosatom, and U.S. Ambassador to Russia William Burns, who is leaving Moscow to take up the No. 3 post in the State Department, signed the deal. The agreement, which is called agreement 123 because it falls under section 123 of the Atomic Energy Act, is required before countries can cooperate on nuclear materials.    Some U.S. politicians have expressed skepticism because of Russia’s involvement in helping Iran to build an atomic power station. “Russia, one of the world’s biggest sellers of enrichment services, has been trying to break into the prosperous nuclear markets of the United States and European Union [for some time],” confirms the Associated Press.Industry leaders in both countries were having a field day for the deal now creates the legal basis that will allow companies to make agreements themselves on trade in nuclear materials. “You cannot overestimate the importance of this agreement because it opens up the giant North American market for nuclear materials to Russian companies,” Vladimir Yevseyev, a senior researcher at the Moscow Centre For International Security.     So, Russia will continue to play in important role in the international scene and, despite attempts to isolate the country by western powers, Russia has proven that it can thrive, even under abnormal circumstances. But if there is party in Russia, only the nouveaux riches are invited. The vast majority of the population still lives a precarious life.Also see Vladimir Putin solidifies his hold on power in RussiaRussia’s new interest in Southeast AsiaRussia and China in a strategic alliance to counter NATO’s global ambitionsNote: Dr. Ardain Isma is a novelist and chief editor for CSMS Magazine. His latest book “Alicia” was critically acclaimed by all of its reviewers.

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