Two meetings for Cameron, but only one really matters


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The Independent Online

The Kremlin is the enduring symbol of power in Russia, but David Cameron's most important meeting today is not likely to be with President Dmitry Medvedev inside the redbrick fortifications. Instead, it will be his afternoon call on Prime Minister Vladimir Putin that is likely to define the trip.

Since the Soviet Union collapsed, the prime minister in Russia has been a largely bureaucratic position of little real power, with PMs fired at will by all-powerful presidents. That all changed when Mr Putin stepped across town from the Kremlin to the White House in 2008.

Constitutionally, he was barred from serving another term as president, but the role of PM was suddenly transformed, and Mr Putin remained the most powerful person in Russia. Many analysts expect him to mount a return to the Kremlin in March presidential elections. The two leaders have said they will not stand against each other, and whichever one runs is almost guaranteed victory.

However, the lack of clarity on whether it will be the tough-talking Mr Putin or Mr Medvedev, with his more liberal rhetoric, who stands for office, has left everyone in Russia playing a guessing game.

"I was contacted by London for advice on the visit," said Alexander Voloshin, who was Kremlin chief of staff from 1999 to 2003 and is still seen as an influential political player. "I told them that Cameron must meet Putin as well as Medvedev, that it wouldn't make sense to come and not see Putin."

Mr Voloshin, as well as several other high-ranking Russian officials, said last week that they still did not know which of the pair was planning to run for president, but expected the decision to be taken soon. "It will be a joint decision," said Mr Voloshin. "It will not be a request or a threat, or a settling of accounts. It will be a partner-like talk, though not a simple one," he said.