Dmitry Medvedev has been declared Russia's next president, after winning the expected enormous majority in yesterday's election. With 99.45 per cent of the votes counted, Medvedev had 70.23 per cent, the Central Election Commission said, more than twice the share taken by his three opponents put together. The turnout was put at 69.65 per cent.
In Moscow's Red Square, a crowd estimated at 35,000 by state media, braved driving snow to attend a rock concert and fireworks display organised by the governing United Russia party. Their fortitude was rewarded when, at 11 o'clock, President Putin and Mr Medvedev strode out of the Kremlin gate, past the the illuminated domes of St Basil's cathedral, and made their way on to the stage.
Mr Medvedev, given precedence by Mr Putin, promised a course of stability and continuity. Thanking all those who had voted for him, and – to booing – those who had voted for the other candidates, he said: "Together, that is two-thirds of our people; that means we're not indifferent to the need to continue the path set by Putin."
Mr Putin, allowing himself half a smile, said the election was a vindication of the "lively and active" democracy of the Russian state. Thanking everyone who had voted, he appealed to all Russians to lay their party-political passions aside and "work for the future of our great homeland".
Gennady Zyuganov, the Communist Party candidate, did better than expected, with 17.76 per cent, while the right-wing populist Vladimir Zhirinovsky did worse, with 9 per cent. The fourth candidate, Andrei Bogdanov, managed just over 3 per cent. Mr Zyuganov's strong performance was thought to reflect concern about those left out of the general rise in living standards.
When he is inaugurated in May, Mr Medvedev will become the third president of post-Soviet Russia and, at 42, the youngest. A law lecturer at St Petersburg University before moving into local and then national government, he was handpicked by the outgoing President as his successor. He is one of two first deputy prime ministers in the Russian government and chairman of the state-controlled energy conglomerate, Gazprom.
Yesterday's vote was historic in that it marked the first time that supreme power was transferred as a result of an election in Russia. But many aspects of the campaign were criticised by Mr Medvedev's opponents and by Western rights groups. The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe declined to send observers, complaining about the visa delays experienced by its officials before legislature elections in December.
There were, however, observers from other international organisations, including EU parliamentarians, and from Russia's parties and opposition groups.
The main criticisms concerned the near-monopoly on television coverage enjoyed by Mr Medvedev during the campaign, on the pretext that he was carrying out government duties. He also refused to take part in pre-election televised debates on the grounds that he had too much to do.
Several opposition candidates were either dissuaded or prevented from standing, most significantly a former prime minister, Mikhail Kasyanov.
There is also a question about how much power will actually be transferred. Although he is giving up the presidency, having served the maximum two terms under the constitution, Mr Putin has made no secret of his desire to become prime minister. Mr Medvedev appears to have accepted that.
Russian voters turned out in slightly greater numbers than at parliamentary elections in December. Apparently fearful low turnout figures might cast doubt on Mr Medvedev's mandate, the Kremlin had pulled out all the stops in the week before the election to boost the numbers.
Celebrities were shown on television saying why they would be voting; President Putin gave a nationwide broadcast, appealing to voters to do their civic duty, and there were reports of institution heads, factory bosses and activists for the governing party, United Russia, using classic Soviet tactics to get people to the ballot box.
Despite official efforts to create a party atmosphere, however, there was widespread cynicism about the lack of real choice. In St Petersburg, Mr Medvedev's home city, on the other hand, there seemed a good sprinkling of first-time voters and young families.
Mr Putin and Mr Medvedev were shown voting at separate polling stations, with their wives, but they joined up later for lunch at a Moscow restaurant.
New leader's words
'Together, we're not indifferent to the need to continue the path set by Putin'
*Freedom is better than lack of freedom.
*We must exclude law-breaking from the habits that our citizens have acquired in their work.
*We will abide by our international oil and gas supply obligations.
*Disrespect for the law always results in disrespect for the rights of other people
*Russia should focus on the four Is: institutions, infrastructure, innovation and investment.
*In the constitution, it is the President and the President alone who sets the course for Russia.