Vladimir Putin's hand-picked replacement has launched his presidential campaign with a 2-day visit to Russia's far west. Dmitry Medvedev has seen his popularity soar since the president announced he would like to see him as his successor: he's now polling 79%, higher than Putin did before his 2004 landslide victory, Bloomberg reports. Barred from a third term, Putin has said he would agree to become Medvedev's PM.
Condoleezza Rice expressed disappointment that Russia would not hold a "contested" presidential race; competition is marginal after several candidates dropped out, with one potential opponent calling the process a "total farce." But foreign business interests view Medvedev, currently the chairman of Gazprom, as a friend of market reforms and a welcome continuation of Putin-era financial policies.