KREMLIN RULER OR PUTIN'S PUPPET: WHO IS MEDVEDEV?
By Guy Faulconbridge Sun Feb 24, 6:33 AM ET
MOSCOW (Reuters) -
People who know Dmitry Medvedev describe
him as an intelligent and straightforward man who dislikes risk -- but does he have the political instincts to survive as
He has been overwhelming favorite to win the March 2 presidential election ever since his mentor,
the outgoing President Vladimir Putin,
endorsed Medvedev to replace him.
Medvedev's personal qualities could suit Putin's purposes: he needs a reliable and loyal ally in
the Kremlin job if he is to exert influence after his own presidential term ends.
Some ex-colleagues question though whether Medvedev has the cunning and ruthlessness to impose his
own authority in the job.
"Dima is clever, clever enough to be president and he is tough, tough enough to be president," one
former colleague from the 1990s told Reuters on condition his name was not published.
"But you have to have a sense, an emotional intelligence, a feeling for decisions in the Kremlin
- Putin has it, (Former President Boris) Yeltsin definitely had it - does Dima? I don't know. We shall see," the former colleague
If he wins the election, the 42-year-old Medvedev will become the youngest Russian leader since
Russia's last emperor, Tsar Nikolai II.
He will also be the first Russian leader with a background in private business.
In contrast to Putin, a former KGB spy accused of rolling back democracy, former lawyer Medvedev
has stressed the importance of freedom and justice. He pleased markets by saying he wants to limit the Kremlin's role in big corporations.
But with a week to go before polling day, Medvedev's personality remains something of a mystery.
A man who himself says he is "buttoned-up" in public, the one-sided campaign has done nothing to
expose his character. He declined to take part in television debates and the only one-on-one interview he gave was paid for
by his campaign.
So who is Dmitry Medvedev?
The most striking theme that emerged from interviews Reuters conducted with some of Medvedev's former colleagues and acquaintances
is that -- at least until now -- he does not stand out from the crowd.
Mikhail Kasyanov, prime minister at a time when Medvedev worked for Putin in the Kremlin, struggled
to recall anything of note about Medvedev.
"He is just a normal bureaucrat," shrugged Kasyanov, who became a fierce Kremlin opponent after
he was sacked in 2004.
Even Medvedev's supporters do not have a lot to say about him. "He is a good guy, just a good guy,"
said one source close to the Kremlin. "He does what he says he will."
Dmitry Anatolyevich Medvedev, born into a family of teachers, is remembered as a bookish child.
He says his favorite book was the Soviet Encyclopaedia -- similar to the Encyclopaedia Britannica
-- though he also developed a taste for British rock
bands Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple.
"He is very cultured, you can speak to him about the theatre, music, he has a sense of humor," said
Nataliya Rasskazova, who studied with Medvedev at St Petersburg University's
law faculty, where Putin also studied.
"He has not changed. I saw him a year ago and there was no arrogance, he was not high and mighty,"
Medvedev taught law after graduating but also went to work for Putin, who was chairman of the St Petersburg mayor's committee for external relations.
Medvedev also moved into business, a period of his life which is left out of official biographies.
He worked as a key lawyer for the Ilim Pulp paper firm, helping to found the firm, though colleagues say he was never treated as an equal
by the firm's owners. It has emerged as one of Russia's leading companies in a sector
worth billions of dollars.
"He got a salary and he was in real business in the 1990s. He saw the reality," said his former
His ex-colleague said Medvedev took a stance unusual for the time: he avoided paying bribes, even
losing the company a court case because he refused to give money to a judge.
Medvedev owes his political career to Putin. By 1999, Medvedev's old friend was prime minister and
soon to replace Yeltsin as president. Putin invited Medvedev to Moscow.
He served as deputy chief of the Kremlin staff, later chief of staff, and was made chairman of state-controlled
Gazprom, the world's biggest gas firm.
Investment bankers said Medvedev displayed his power in the Kremlin by pushing through a major reform
of Gazprom that allowed the state to consolidate its control but at the same time opened up the firm's shares to ownership
Medvedev was catapulted into the presidential race late last year when Putin said he was the right
man for the job. But with Putin still powerful and planning to stay on as prime minister, Medvedev's position could be precarious.
"We are seeing just a part of the plan, the first few scenes, and no one knows the ending - not
even Medvedev - and he can't know because (Putin's) plans could change depending on Medvedev," his former colleague said.
"Putin trusts Medvedev, he trusts his moderate character and dislike of risk taking. That is what
he needs, but how long does it last for Medvedev? How will it work?"