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Who is Dmitri Medvedev?

world Updated: Dec 16, 2007 00:22 IST
Fred Weir

Barely a week ago he was just one of the faces in the Kremlin's inner-circle, and considered an outside contender in the race to succeed President Vladimir Putin.

But a little tap on the shoulder last week from Putin changed everything for deputy prime minister Dmitri Medvedev, 42, and made him the almost inevitable next president of Russia.

Within days of receiving Putin's backing in presidential polls scheduled for March 2, over 63 per cent of Russians said they would vote for Medvedev, according to a survey by the independent Levada Centre.

He is rumoured to be a liberal, but surprisingly little is known about the core views of highly-educated, English-speaking Medvedev, who has never before run for public office. It's also unclear how his 17-year long relationship with his boss, Putin, will play out if Medvedev becomes the undisputed Kremlin leader next year.

In his first campaign speech last week Medvedev pledged that, if elected, he would appoint Putin as prime minister. Putin has yet to respond to that offer. "There is no mystery in Putin's support of Medvedev," says Alexei Venediktov, editor of the independent Ekho Moskvi radio station. "Putin has always preferred people with whom he's had a long relationship. His trust in Medvedev is extremely high."

But many experts fear Medvedev lacks the experience and force of character to make his own mark on the Kremlin, especially with Putin —whose public approval rating hit 87 per cent last month — looking over his shoulder.

"Medvedev is controlled and ruled by Putin," says Andrei Kolesnikov, a former Kremlin aide and biographer of Putin. "Medvedev is an apparatchik by nature, not a politician. Putin is a much stronger personality."

Educated in civil law, Medvedev first met Putin when the two worked together in the office of reforming St. Petersburg mayor Anatoly Sobchak in the early 1990's. (Unlike Putin and many other members of the current Kremlin team, experts say Medvedev has no background in the Soviet KGB or its Russian successor agency, the FSB.)

After he began his meteoric rise to the presidency in 1999, Putin brought Medvedev to Moscow and installed him as a top Kremlin aide. In 2001, Medvedev was appointed as chairman of the natural gas monopoly Gazprom, and oversaw its subsequent transformation into a majority state-owned corporation.

"Medvedev is a highly-intelligent person. He's of another generation," US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, said last week.