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The Smart Kid

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Medvedev “worships Putin like a father figure, or at least like an older brother” says Valery Musin to the MT (AP Photo/Mikhail Metzel)

Russia has long maintained a rich texture of public archetypes for its leaders. Mikhail Gorbachev was the “chatterbox”, Boris Yeltsin the “macho”, and Vladimir Putin the “soldier of the empire”. Today the Moscow Times has an interesting profile of Deputy Premier Dmitry Medvedev, who is crafting his image as “The Smart Kid” to position himself for the presidential succession.

By Nabi Abdullaev in The Moscow Times:

None of Dmitry Medvedev’s friends can remember hearing him bark an order. If he ever did, it would sound forced, they said.Soft-spoken and a full 10 centimeters shorter than the diminutive President Vladimir Putin, Medvedev is a far cry from what the public expects in a leader, political consultants said.But people who know Medvedev personally said he has many leadership traits, including a knack for learning quickly, the integrity to stand by what he believes, and the aptitude to work as a team player.One thing everyone seems to agree on is that his chances of becoming the next president rest solely on whether he wins Putin’s backing. Voters are expected to elect whomever Putin names as his preferred successor in the election next March.Medvedev, a first deputy prime minister, has a relationship with Putin unlike that of any other possible candidate: While other, older contenders, such as Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov and First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov, treat Putin like the master, the 42-year-old Medvedev looks up to Putin like a father, friends and political analysts said.”Medvedev’s personality was shaped under Putin’s strong influence, and he worships Putin like a father figure, or at least like an older brother,” said Valery Musin, Medvedev’s former academic adviser and law professor at Leningrad State University.Putin and Medvedev both attended law classes taught by future St. Petersburg Mayor Anatoly Sobchak at Leningrad State University, although more than a decade apart. Sobchak later called on Putin, Medvedev and Musin to work in City Hall.Different types of people have led the country from the Kremlin, including the “chatterbox” Mikhail Gorbachev, the “macho” Boris Yeltsin and the “soldier of the empire” Vladimir Putin, said Stanislav Belkovsky, a former Putin spin doctor who heads the Institute of National Strategy, a think tank.”Medvedev would be the ‘smart kid’ type, and Russians would accept him under the right circumstances,” he said.Medvedev seems to have filled the role of a “smart kid” since he took his first steps. He is the only child of two St. Petersburg university professors. He understood the value of education and studied hard, participated in the local Komsomol youth group, and earned the respect of other students, said Irina Grigorovskaya, a math teacher at St. Petersburg School No. 305 who has known Medvedev since he was 11.”Medvedev was very focused on what he was doing and polite,” she said.”But, you know, frankly, there were many others like him,” she said.Medvedev met his future wife, Svetlana, at the school, and they both graduated in 1982. The couple has one son, Ilya, 11.Five years ago, Medvedev, then a deputy chief of the presidential administration, organized a 20-year class reunion in St. Petersburg. “He was very open and easygoing with the others there,” Grigorovskaya said.Medvedev entered law school at Leningrad State University in the fall of 1982, and he developed a reputation as a hardworking student and team player, Musin said. “I remember him and another student, Anton Ivanov, digging potatoes together during a trip to a collective farm where students helped gather the crops,” Musin said. “Medvedev was good company for us.”Ivanov, then a close friend of Medvedev’s, is now chairman of the Supreme Arbitration Court.After graduating in 1987, Medvedev decided to become a professor like his parents, and he completed the university’s doctoral program in 1990. He taught law there on and off until 1999, when Putin brought him to Moscow.Meeting PutinSobchak offered Medvedev and Putin jobs shortly after he was elected mayor in 1991. Putin took over the city committee on external relations, while Medvedev became a Sobchak adviser and legal consultant for Putin’s committee.”Several times we briefed Putin together on various legal issues, and I noticed that Putin regarded Medvedev’s recommendations with respect,” Musin said. “Medvedev may seem soft and pliable as a team member, but he is quite rigid on the things that he believes are right.”Later this firmness would assert itself in Medvedev’s incessant denial of the notion of sovereign democracy, a term coined by Vladislav Surkov, a deputy head of the presidential administration who once served under Medvedev in the Kremlin. The term sovereign democracy — used to describe how Russia’s democracy differs from that in the West — has been eagerly picked up by Putin and widely exploited by pro-Putin party United Russia.”I still don’t like this term,” Medvedev said in an interview with Vedomosti in July. “In my opinion as a lawyer, playing up one feature of a full-fledged democracy — namely the supremacy of state authorities within the country and their independence [from influences] outside the country — is excessive and even harmful because it is disorienting.”Medvedev’s aide responsible for media relations, Zhanna Odintsova, declined repeated requests for an interview for this report. For more than a month she also turned down requests to accompany Medvedev on one of his frequent trips around the country, citing a lack of space among the pool of reporters who travel with Medvedev.In 1996, Putin’s and Medvedev’s paths parted after Sobchak lost his post in elections. Putin eventually got a job in Moscow at the Kremlin’s property department, and Medvedev returned to teaching and went into private business. In 1998, he served as chairman of the Bratsk Forestry Complex.

Complete profile here.