Russia's president-elect, Dmitry Medvedev, Vladimir Putin's handpicked successor, can count on support from his country's religious organizations which have congratulated him after his landslide victory in the elections - writes Sophia Kishkovsky.
The election campaign which ended with polling on 2 March 2008 was criticised as heavily weighted in favour of Medvedev, who has worked with religious organizations in the past, and who is scheduled to take office on 7 May.
A video clip on a Web site of the Russian Orthodox Church, www.patriarhia.ru, showed Patriarch Alexei II casting his ballot in an urn brought to his working residence, a mansion in central Moscow. Addressing election commission members and journalists, the Patriarch expressed hope that the next president would "continue the course carried out by Vladimir Putin". The following day Alexei addressed congratulations directly to the 42-year-old Medvedev, who had been serving as a first deputy prime minister and who garnered nearly 70 percent of the vote.
"It is gratifying to know that during the years of your previous work in government posts. You always strove to make a significant contribution to the development of fruitful cooperation with the Russian Orthodox Church and kept watch over national interests," said Alexei.
Medvedev's ties to Putin go back to the 1990s in Saint Petersburg, their hometown, and he was appointed in 2006 to head the government's commission on religious organizations. His main work in the government entailed overseeing programmes in areas such as healthcare and education, to channel the country's oil windfall into improving living standards.
The new president's wife, Svetlana, is active in charity programmes affiliated to the Moscow Patriarchate.
Medvedev has said he was baptised into the Russian Orthodox Church at the age of 23. Russian nationalist fringe groups stirred speculation in the poll run-up that the president-elect might have Jewish roots, based on the purportedly Jewish origin of his mother's maiden name, Shaposhnikova.
Medvedev has condemned anti-Semitism, and met Jewish leaders during the Jewish feast of Hannukah. Putin has also enjoyed close ties with the Russian Orthodox Church and with Jewish leaders.
In a statement addressed to the new president and released on 5 March, Aleksandr Boroda, president of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia said: "There is no doubt that the absolute majority of members of the Jewish community of Russia came to the polls and voted for you .... We value your balanced, constructive policy on the interethnic question. And we're convinced that your activity in the presidential post will be of much benefit both within the country and in the international arena."
Ravil Gainutdin, an Islamic leader who heads Russia's Council of Muftis, told the Interfax news agency he is certain that the "main direction of activity of the new president will be the continuation of the course towards the stability and unity of Russia".
The Islamic council's co-chairperson, Mukkadas Bibarsov, expressed concern about the possibility of "massive violations of election legislation" in Ingushetia, a troubled Muslim region adjacent to Chechnya in the Northern Caucasus. Both regions displayed Soviet-style voter turnout of close to 90 percent.
But Bibarsov said that the especially high support for Medvedev and for United Russia, the pro-Kremlin political party, in December's parliamentary elections, is not surprising. "Muslims always support the continuity of the course, the powers that be," he told the Islam.Ru website. "This is a particularity of the political culture, a kind of tradition. The people in these regions are more organized and disciplined. Of course, maybe the Soviet heritage also manifests itself."
[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.]