( Times ) - When Dmitri Medvedev ascends to the Kremlin throne in Sunday's presidential election he will become Russia's youngest leader since Nicholas II was crowned Tsar in 1894.
The comparison with an autocratic monarch is a fitting one for most Russians, since the election result has not been in doubt from the moment Vladimir Putin named Mr Medvedev as his heir in December. The campaign since then has been entirely stage-managed by the Kremlin, with rival candidates marginalised or barred from getting on the ballot.
The more intriguing question for many is whether Mr Medvedev emerges as a forceful President in his own right or remains a puppet prince to the real power behind the throne when Mr Putin moves to become Prime Minister.
Both men insist that the division of power, highly unusual in Russian political history, will work well and that there will be no friction in their partnership.
A giant election poster near the Kremlin emphasises the point by showing Mr Putin and Mr Medvedev striding forward under the slogan "Together we will be victorious". Cynics point out that Mr Putin, 55, is pictured slightly in front of his young protege.
For Mr Medvedev, 42, the challenge and privilege of being Russia's new President is tempered by the knowledge that he must escape Mr Putin's shadow. Many in Russia's political elite regard him as a stop-gap figure, installed because the Constitution barred Mr Putin from a third consecutive term.
Some talk openly of a Putin restoration in 2012, by when the constitution may have been changed to extend presidential terms from four to seven years. They see the Putin era stretching far into the future, a dream he has encouraged by setting out ambitious development goals for Russia until 2020.
Others insist that Mr Medvedev has been underestimated and that he is simply biding his time before demonstrating the extent of his ambition. Stanislav Belkovsky, a Kremlin critic and author of a new book on Mr Medvedev titled Lesser Evil, told The Times: "Medvedev and his team will by no means share their power with anybody, including Putin. He considers himself a good chance for the country and a good choice for the presidency. He will not be a puppet president."
Mr Medvedev spelt out his view in a campaign interview with Itogi magazine, saying: "There cannot be two, or three or five centres [of power]. The President is in charge of Russia, and under the constitution there can only be one President."
So who is Dmitri Medvedev and what does he believe? Like Mr Putin, he grew up in St Petersburg, then known as Leningrad and Soviet Russia's most liberal city Both men also graduated in law from Leningrad State University.
There the comparison ends. Mr Putin, famously, began a career in the KGB, while Mr Medvedev has no known links with the secret police or the military.
The man whose surname comes, fittingly, from the Russian word for "bear" is a soft-spoken former law professor who practises yoga and speaks to his mother on the telephone every day.
Mr Putin's image as a cold-eyed former spy and judo black belt compensates for his relative lack of stature at 5ft 7ins. Mr Medvedev is three inches shorter and has been given lessons in how to walk and talk like his mentor to cut a more imposing figure. His image as first Deputy Prime Minister under Mr Putin has been that of a capable but essentially colourless administrator, charged with overseeing key "national projects" to improve health, education, agriculture and housing.
He has tried to present a trendier image to Russian voters by disclosing his love of Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin and other Seventies British hard rock bands, a devotion fired by listening to bootleg albums at a time when their music was blacklisted as subversive by the Soviet authorities.
"I remember how I dreamed of buying Pink Floyd's The Wall album which had just appeared, but for me at the time 200 roubles was an astronomical sum," he said. Mr Medvedev also lamented that his parents, both university professors, earned too little to buy him Levi's and Wrangler jeans, then available only on the black market.
When Deep Purple played for him at the Kremlin last month, Mr Medvedev was pictured grinning broadly next to his heroes and marvelling on television that it would have been "completely surreal" to imagine such a concert in his youth.
Such images might seem corny in Britain but they resonate with a generation of voters that has made the same journey as Mr Medvedev, from the Communist stagnation of their youth through the post-Soviet humiliations of the 1990s as young adults and into maturity in modern Russia's economic boom.
These people regard Mr Putin as the man who restored Russia's pride and saved the country from economic collapse. His sober, action-man image made him for many Russians the first Kremlin leader in their lifetimes that they were not ashamed of.
Such voters say that they support Mr Medvedev because they want the stability of the Putin era to continue, though they acknowledge the authoritarianism that has also characterised his rule.
Mr Medvedev has played on both themes, repeatedly promised to continue "Putin's Plan" for economic development while striking more liberal positions than his mentor. In a speech to business leaders, he pledged to strengthen the independence of the judiciary and roll back state interference in the economy after years in which government-controlled companies have expanded their influence.
He also declared that freedom was the most important policy for any prosperous modern state, adding: "I mean freedom in all its manifestations - personal freedom, economic freedom, finally freedom of expression." Sceptics question whether Mr Medvedev means what he says or will have the freedom to turn his words into action as President. They point out that he is dependent on Mr Putin to control the siloviki, the Kremlin hard-liners in the military and secret police who favoured his rival, Sergei Ivanov.
Mr Medvedev owes his entire political career to Mr Putin's patronage ever since the pair worked together at St Petersburg City Council. Mr Putin summoned him to Moscow as deputy head of the government administration when President Yeltsin named him Prime Minister and heir apparent in 1999.
President Putin steadily promoted Mr Medvedev and gave a clear signal that he was the favoured son and heir when he created the role of first deputy prime minister for him in 2005. Mr Medvedev's critical role as chairman of Gazprom since 2002 also indicated the degree of Mr Putin's trust in him.
From tomorrow, their roles will be reversed and Mr Putin must answer to Mr Medvedev. Will it be a harmonious relationship or recipe for instability and Kremlin in-fighting on a grand scale?
"The question for Medvedev is not being manipulated by Putin or anybody else. He will not be manipulated, but will position himself as a real President from the very first day," predicted Mr Belkovsky, who recently claimed that Mr Putin was Europe's wealthiest man with $40 billion in secret bank accounts.
The delicacy of the issue was illustrated last month when Mr Putin was asked if he would hang a portrait of President Medvedev in his office, as is traditional for government officials. He declared that he saw no need.