Putin and Medvedev get Easter blessing at Orthodox ceremony

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Orthodox Easter ceremonies took on political undertones as the Russian President Vladimir Putin and his chosen successor celebrated the dominant church's most important holiday together ahead of a power handover that has prompted uncertainty about the future.

Mr Putin and the President-elect Dmitry Medvedev stood side-by-side at a midnight ceremony led by the Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II at Christ the Savior Cathedral near the Kremlin. Mr Putin is to become prime minister after ceding the presidency to Mr Medvedev on 7 May. Both men have suggested they will rule in tandem, and their Easter appearance seemed aimed at emphasising that.

The choreography of the celebration and remarks by Alexy II, who has supported Mr Putin, seemed designed to assure Russians that the outgoing president is driven by love for his country, not hunger for power. "We are grateful to you, deeply respected Vladimir Vladimirovich," Alexy II told Mr Putin. "In the eight years of your presidency, you have done so much for Russia. And only love for Russia has prompted you to further continue your service together with a person whom you trust and whom the people have come to trust".

In an Easter message, Mr Putin assured Alexy II that "the state will continue to provide all possible support to the Church in its works aimed at the enlightenment and moral education of Russian citizens".

Mr Medvedev said the growing role of the Russian Orthodox Church in society "opens new possibilities for the cooperation of the state and the Church".