Medvedev: loyal PM in Putin's shadow

Moscow (AFP) –


Dmitry Medvedev, who has held onto the post of Russian prime minister, served a single term as president before standing aside to allow Vladimir Putin's return to the Kremlin in 2012, becoming a premier with diminishing powers and authority.

While president, Medvedev attempted to launch a campaign of modernisation to pull the country out of its post-Soviet stagnation but never escaped the shadow of his dominant mentor.

Putin opted for continuity in choosing a prime minister for his fourth Kremlin term, after the Russian press had recently reported Medvedev could be on his way out.

"Dmitry Medvedev has held on," Vedomosti business daily headlined its front page after Putin proposed his candidacy to parliament, while RBK daily called him a "premier for stability."

Medvedev was absent during Putin's low-key presidential campaign but remains resolutely loyal to his mentor.

First named prime minister by Putin after the strongman's return to the Kremlin in a notorious 2012 job swap, Medvedev has played a relatively marginal role in the post in recent years.

In 2017, opposition politician and anti-corruption blogger Alexei Navalny accused Medvedev of controlling a luxury property empire in a YouTube video that has been viewed more than 27 million times, leading to large-scale opposition protests.

Officially, this year he declared an income of just 8.56 million rubles ($135,000).

Navalny slammed Medvedev's return as premier, warning his supporters on Twitter: "Almost everything will depend on him, from transport costs to your salary."

'Freedom cannot be put off'

Medvedev was born on September 14, 1965 in Putin's home town of Leningrad to a family of teachers, training as a lawyer and then working in the city hall for five years under Putin from 1990-1995.

He owes his entire political career to the former KGB agent.

Putin took his protege to Moscow after being appointed prime minister in 1999 and Medvedev rapidly rose to be chairman of gas giant Gazprom. He also served as chief of staff at the Kremlin and as first deputy prime minister.

Anointed successor as Putin was not allowed to stand for two consecutive terms, Medvedev in 2008 won a presidential election on the back of Putin's support and his first act on taking office was to appoint the Russian strongman as prime minister.

He said Russia's economy had reached a "dead end" and required urgent reform if the country was going to move forward.

In one speech, he even seemed to compare himself to reforming Tsar Alexander II who in 1861 ordered the historic emancipation of the serfs and would ultimately be assassinated.

"We are trying to change our economy and change our political system. In essence we are continuing a political course that was set 150 years ago. Freedom cannot be put off for another day," he said.

But cynics pointed out that such words counted for little when Russia was still dominated by Putin and Medvedev himself played down the idea there was any radical difference in their visions.

His trademark modernisation programme were marked by some of the boldest statements ever by a Kremlin leader but were also mercilessly mocked by commentators and bloggers for being short on actions.

While liberals and the West hoped Medvedev would reverse the increase in state control and erosion of civil liberties during Putin's previous rule, he showed little desire for a radical break with Putin's legacy.

- Modernisation drive -

In contrast to Putin, Medvedev as president sought to promote a welcoming image for the country and championed a "reset" in relations with the United States, although his jarringly tough statements at home appeared to be an attempt not to be outdone by Putin in the tough-talking stakes.

He sent Russian troops into Georgian territory in the 2008 war with Tbilisi, a decision that temporarily wrecked relations with the West but one the president insisted he took on his own.

Keen to leave behind a legacy in Russia, Medvedev ordered the building of a technology hub for his modernisation drive in the town of Skolkovo outside Moscow.

Often seen proudly clutching his iPad -- a souvenir from a visit to Silicon Valley -- he has embraced Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, in contrast to the much less tech-savvy Putin.

An ambitious man, Medvedev has suggested he would like to return to Russia's top job.

"Never say never," he told AFP in an interview in 2012.