Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Is Medvedev’s Wife Pushing Him to Be President in More than Name?

Paul Goble

Vienna, January 14 – Dmitry Medvedev’s wife Svetlana stands behind the Russian president’s recent moves to distance himself from his mentor Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and thus become that country’s pre-eminent leader not only by title but in fact, according to a leading Italian journalist.
Many commentators have called attention to several recent statements by Medvedev –particularly his December 30 remark that the president bears “chief responsibility for the situation in the country and his January 11 remarks about his role in overcoming the economic crisis – as signs that he enjoys the powers of his office and wants to be Russia’s top leader.
But given his deference to Putin until recently on all things and on most even to this day, most observers inside Russia and abroad either have suggested that these deviations are not important or that they in fact are part of a carefully stage-managed game which the two leaders have agreed to play.
But today, in Milan’s “Il Giornale,” Marcello Foa suggests that Medvedev is making a more concerted effort to increase his own power and that the key person pushing him in that direction is his wife ( For a Russian-language translation, see
Although as Foa notes, the majority of analysts continue to believe that Putin is in overall charge, although a few have suggested that the decline in the prime minister’s popularity because of the economic crisis and especially his role in the new automobile tariffs may have given Medvedev an unexpected opportunity to push himself forward.
But a few – and the Italian journalist clearly places himself among them – believe that Medvedev has longer range plans to assume more if not all the powers of the top position in the Russian political firmament, a large number of which Putin appeared to have taken with him when he shifted from being president to prime minister.
And these analysts, Foa among them, argue that what is at work is “the S factor,” with the “S” standing for “Svetlana, his wife,” who is widely seen as “intelligent, direct and ambitious. Indeed, very ambitious, and consequently she [rather than someone else] may stand behind the recent unexpected changes” in Dmitry Medvedev’s behavior.
An indication of whether she truly is the power behind the throne or at least a major advocate of advancing the powers of her president-husband will come soon: Known to be a committed member of the Russian Orthodox Church, Svetlana Medvedeva has given many indications that she has her own views on who should become the next Moscow patriarch.
Unlike Vladimir Putin, who in the past has appeared to be comfortable with the corrupt and authoritarian Metropolitan Kirill – someone who, like Putin, rejects the notion of universal human rights – Svetlana Medvedeva appears to prefer Metropolitan Kliment who is an active supporter of the restoration of the New Jerusalem Monastery in which she is interested.
If the balance of power in Moscow has shifted from Putin to Medvedev, then it is entirely possible that Kirill, long identified as the heir presumptive to Aleksii, will not become patriarch. Instead, the nod will go to Kliment if the Medvedevs really have gained the upper hand or to Metropolitan Vladimir, a placeholder, until the president and his wife are able to get their way.

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