MOSCOW (JTA) – Winston Churchill may be dead, but his iconic description of Russia as a “riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma” remains alive and well.
With the result of this week’s election in Russia pretty much ordained, there wasn’t much mystery about who would win. But with the enigmatic Vladimir Putin orchestrating Russia’s transfer of power, the riddle over how his successor will run things – especially with Putin as prime minister – remains very much a riddle.
So who is Dmitry Anatolyevich Medvedev?
Medvedev was born in St. Petersburg, then Leningrad, to two university professors on Sept. 14, 1965. A bright student, Medvedev earned a law degree from Leningrad State University in 1987 and then a doctorate in 1990.
During the chaotic period of the fall of the Soviet Union, Medvedev served as a legal adviser to St. Petersburg Mayor Anatoly Sobchak. It was there that he first met Putin, an ex-KGB agent who was then a fellow Sobchak staffer.
Following Sobchak’s downfall as mayor amid fraud charges in 1996, Putin left for Moscow but Medvedev stayed in St. Petersburg, continuing the successful business career he had begun while working for the mayor.
In the ensuing years and throughout Putin’s presidency, Medvedev remained a loyal confidante of Putin’s – the quality many say prompted the president to name Medvedev as his successor.
When Putin became prime minister under Boris Yeltsin in 1999, he called on his old friend to head his 2000 presidential campaign. Medvedev played behind-the-scenes roles from the inception of the Putin administration, making him a trusted Putin deputy – but also an unknown quantity to the general public.
“Right now Medvedev is certainly not his own man,” said Masha Lipman, an analyst at the Carnegie Center in Moscow. “His nomination is not due to his own political campaign. It’s due to the fact that Putin picked him and offered him to the public and to the elite as his choice.”
In 2005, Medvedev was appointed first deputy prime minister in charge of five national projects and became responsible for rebuilding the country’s decrepit infrastructure. Billions of dollars were poured into the projects, raising Medvedev’s public profile. But little was accomplished with the projects, and Medvedev’s political positions remained largely unknown.
Medvedev’s most important political role was as chairman of Gazprom, Russia’s energy company and the third most valuable corporation in the world. Appointed to the post in 2000, Medvedev chaired the firm during the so-called “gas wars” between Russia and its former Soviet satellites, when the Kremlin used its energy resources to further its political goals.
He also was at the helm of Gazprom when it absorbed Russian media outlets, such as Vladimir Gusinsky’s NTV.
Most experts expect that Medvedev will continue the policies that earned his boss 80 percent approval ratings and virtually guaranteed that Putin would be able to hand pick his successor.
Medvedev’s relationship to the Jewish community is not much of a riddle. Jewish leaders in Russia say they expect Medvedev to continue the strong relationship Jews have had with the Kremlin under Putin.
Less than a week before he was named Putin’s successor, Medvedev visited the Marina Roscha headquarters of the Chabad-led Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia for a news conference. A few days later Rabbi Berel Lazar, himself a Putin confidante and chief rabbi of Russia, expressed warm feelings about Medvedev.
“We have had more meetings with this statesman than with any other except for President Putin,” Lazar said. “We can say that he has always been a clever and experienced interlocutor capable of reaching mutual understanding.”