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Russian parliament confirms Putin as prime minister
Russia Putin MOSB13 5098052
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, right, listens to Russian former president Vladimir Putin, during a discussion in the State Duma, lower parliament chamber, in Moscow on Thursday, May 8, 2008. Russian legislators confirmed Vladimir Putin as prime minister Thursday, capping a carefully engineered recast of Russia's leadership a day after he handed the presidency to his protege Dmitry Medvedev. Medvedev said he would sign a decree making Putin prime minister later in the day. - photo by Associated Press
    MOSCOW — Vladimir Putin was named prime minister of Russia Thursday after a fervent speech full of ambitious plans that overshadowed his low-key successor and suggested that he will keep a strong hand in ruling the country.
    Putin promised to build on Russia’s economic recovery and work to satisfy its people’s dreams of comfort and prosperity.
    Loyal lawmakers in the State Duma confirmed Putin in a 392-56 vote after a confirmation hearing whose outcome was never in doubt. The new president, Dmitry Medvedev, portrayed his mentor’s eight-year presidency as a time of transformation. One legislator told the nationwide TV audience Putin had ‘‘raised Russia from its knees.’’
    Putin’s unprecedented move from the Kremlin to the No. 2 post will keep him politically prominent for the foreseeable future and could serve as a springboard back to the presidency. It has Russians wondering who will really hold the country’s reins.
    In his own, far longer speech to lawmakers, Putin said that the ‘‘consolidation of political forces and solidarity of society’’ was imperative for Russia’s progress.
    Focusing on the economy in the same commanding detail with which he prided himself as president, Putin set lofty goals, saying Russia must be among the top nations in terms of living standards within 10 or 15 years — a tantalizing prospect for Russians who have struggled for decades to get by.
    He said inflation must be kept in the single digits — though last year it was over 10 percent.
    He said Russia’s economy could surpass Britain’s this year and become the world’s sixth-largest.
    Putin also acknowledged problems that have persisted amid the oil-fueled economic recovery that coincided with his presidency. He said Russia must lessen its reliance on its energy resources but also ease taxes to boost sluggish oil production, and warned of the toll taken by the nation’s drinking and smoking habits.
    Putin took mostly light questions before the vote, with the only complaints coming from Communists who voiced concerns over high inflation and rampant corruption. One lawmaker set up Putin to accuse the West of hampering Russian investors’ access to markets.
    The switch caps months of political maneuvering by the popular Putin to maintain influence after stepping down. Barred by term limits from running in the March presidential vote, he anointed Medvedev as his favored successor in December and pledged to serve as his prime minister.
    Medvedev formally nominated Putin in one of his first acts as president Wednesday. Putin’s United Russia party holds 315 of the 450 seats in the Duma and two of the other three parties also support him.
    Medvedev said lawmakers’ applause ‘‘means that Vladimir Vladimirovich needs no special recommendation’’ and credited Putin with recharging Russia’s economy and raising its global stature.
    ‘‘Russia is respected once again,’’ Medvedev said.
    Russia’s president is the undisputed head of state and sets policy on all fronts, while the prime minister heads the Cabinet and is responsible for running the economy. But Putin is expected to have strong influence on Medvedev, who at 42 is 13 years younger and owes his political ascent to his mentor.
    Putin’s prime ministers, particularly during his second term, served largely as enforcers and fall guys, sometimes shouldering blame for problems and sometimes passing it down the line to Cabinet ministers. Putin, meanwhile, remained above the fray and any hint of criticism on state-run television was taboo.
    Putin is expected to play a far stronger role as prime minister. He will also control the Duma and wield power nationwide as chairman of United Russia, a position he assumed last month after leading the party to a sweeping victory in December parliamentary elections.
    Putin and Medvedev have stressed they will work together to help Russia modernize its economy, boost social welfare and tackle the severe infrastructure problems that are depleting its population and jeopardizing its future.
    ‘‘I think nobody doubts that our tandem, our cooperation will only strengthen,’’ Medvedev told lawmakers.
    He vowed to tread Putin’s path, saying their teamwork would ‘‘provide the necessary continuity and development of the course that has been supported by the Russian people.’’
    Critics say the show of solidarity by mentor and protege masks fears that Putin has navigated Russia into a dangerous period of political uncertainty, with two centers of power taking shape in a potentially debilitating and divisive arrangement.
    Under the constitution, the prime minister temporarily replaces a president who dies or is incapacitated.
    Putin, 55, a longtime KGB officer, served as prime minister for five months in 1999 under Boris Yeltsin, who stepped down on Dec. 31 of that year and handed him the presidency. Putin was elected to his first term three months later.
    Associated Press writers Vladimir Isachenkov and Maria Danilova contributed to this report.

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