MOSCOW – The Russian elections are over, all the votes have been counted, and the results will be officially certified on Thursday. We all know that Vladimir Putin's former chief of staff – Deputy Prime Minister Dimitry Medvedev – won.
In December, at the start of the campaign, the Kremlin reportedly sent out notice to all the regional governors on its payroll that it wanted to see a 70/70 result: 70 percent turnout and 70 percent support for the bureaucrat who Putin hand-picked to succeed him. And the Kremlin got what it demanded – almost to the vote. Medvedev's total count was 70.24 percent on 69.65 percent turnout.
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Andreas Gross, the spokesman for the only group of Western observers who dared venture into this electoral experiment Putin calls "managed democracy," said at a press conference that the election was "not free, not fair, but accurate all the same."
That's a diplomatic way of saying, remove all the free TV coverage, the biased reporting, the state broadcast media's ability to create rock stars from rocks, the pressure on employees and students to vote the "right way," the discounted food, the lotteries, the prize money, and the crackdown on all real, anti-Kremlin opposition – and the numbers would still add up to produce a Medvedev victory. There was no need to massage them.
That tells you a few things: how popular Putin is with his people and how disinterested Russians are with politics in general and democracy in particular.
So, Medvedev won. What does it mean? Don't believe anyone who has an answer. No one knows.
Some analysts suggest that even Putin, who controlled this election – dubbed "Operation Successor" by the media – with an almost pathological obsession, doesn't know either.
That's because, after the world's most predictable "free and democratic" election, to quote Putin, the winners now have to reinvent themselves. And no one knows what that reinvention will look like.
We do know that, constitutionally, Medvedev – as Russia's president – should be in charge of foreign policy and the so-called "power ministries," such as defense and security services. But these are Putin's signature centers of influence inside the Kremlin, and with every post held by one of his former KGB associates – he will presumably still wield power there.
We also know that Putin is expected to be appointed prime minister, a position which is responsible for the economy and oversees the government, but which wields significantly less power than the president in Russia.
How will 'diarchy'
Weighing the opinions of a host of Russian and Western political analysts, the jury is clearly out on how this in many ways unique tandem is going to work.
Some, like Ed Lucas, author of "The New Cold War," claim that, by definition, this "diarchy" can't work. "Russia's always been led by one person," said Lucas. "So either Medvedev's just going to be a figurehead or Putin really has to leave the scene or it's going to be unstable, and I think the third of those is most likely."
Others, like Vladimir Ryzhkov, a former liberal member of the Russian Parliament who is now the host of a radio show on current affairs, believe that Medvedev and Putin are such soul mates that, with a little portfolio realignment, they will bring stability to a country no longer interested in real reform.
''I think Putin will be more focused now on the economy,'' Ryzhkov ventured. ''I think he'll keep control over the power ministries as well, those so-called 'siloviki' – the military, the secret services and the Prosecutor's Office. But Medvedev will focus more on foreign policy.''
Still others see a more radical scenario: Putin, after a year or two of transition – the time it takes for Medvedev to feel secure at the top – will step down and leave the governing to his one-time protégé. And don't think that's simply a ruse to allow Putin to run again for President in 2012.
"I don't believe in comebacks in Russian politics," explained Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of "Russia in Global Affairs" magazine. ''In my view, Medvedev will, step by step, create his own power base and Putin will disappear from politics. Not from the Russian public arena, but from practical, day-to-day politics.''
If that's true, if Medvedev is the man, does it mean that the West, and particularly the United States, can look forward to a time, in the not too distant future, when a healthy, confident Russian president presides over a stable nation with a strong economy? Someone who, if you believe his stump speeches, espouses a policy of personal freedoms and business savvy? Might Medvedev be the "dream Russian leader" the West has been waiting for since the fall of the Soviet Union? A Putin with a heart and a soft touch? A Boris Yeltsin, with youth and drive?
Not so fast, says Lucas. ''There are some good things about Medvedev: he's not an ex-KGB guy and uses some quite liberal rhetoric. On the other hand, Putin used to talk that way too in the early years of his rule, and look at him!''
So, what's next?
On May 7, Medvedev will be inaugurated, and Putin, shortly thereafter, is expected to be named prime minister. As such, Putin will then be asked to form a new government, which the pair of leaders are already vetting and beginning to choose people for. After which, over time, the world will watch and learn if Dimitry Medvedev is indeed Russia's president, or Putin's puppet.
Jim Maceda is an NBC News Correspondent based in London who is currently on assignment in Moscow. He was previously based in the former Soviet Union and Russia.