( Reuters ) - Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on Tuesday that Dmitry Medvedev, named by Russian President Vladimir Putin as his preferred successor, was "of another generation" of Russian leaders, USA Today reported.
Medvedev, a 42-year-old first deputy prime minister and chairman of gas giant Gazprom, is seen by markets as business-friendly and less hawkish than his Kremlin peers, but analysts believe Putin will be the real power.
USA Today said on its Web site that Rice in an interview noted that after meeting Medvedev several times, she thought he "is a very intelligent person. He is of another generation."
She said Medvedev has been attempting to diversify the Russian economy and work "with regions on efforts to wire the country with the Internet."
Putin's choice put Medvedev in pole position to win a March 2 presidential election because most Russian voters say they are prepared to back whomever the popular Putin endorses.
Rice also told the newspaper she hoped Russia's presidential election in March would be "really contested."
"But you know, I would hope that the time will come when Russia is going into a presidential election where there is a realistic chance for a really contested election. And I think that, to me, is the biggest problem with this."
Medvedev said on Tuesday he wanted Putin to become prime minister under him, mapping out a route for the outgoing leader to retain influence.
But Putin did not say if he would take his long-time ally up on the job offer and some analysts said they believed the Russian leader had not finally decided what role he will take when he steps down next year.