Wednesday, May 22, 2013 | rus
Born September 14, 1965, in Leningrad.
Graduated from the Faculty of Law of Leningrad State University in 1987 and completed his post-graduate studies at Leningrad State University in 1990. Holds a PhD in law and the title of associate professor.
1990-1999: Lectured at St Petersburg State University.
At the same time, between 1990-1995, was an adviser to the Chairman of the Leningrad City Council and an expert consultant to the St Petersburg City Hall’s Committee for External Affairs.
1999: Deputy Government Chief of Staff.
1999-2000: Deputy Chief of Staff of the Presidential Executive Office.
2000-2003: First Deputy Chief of Staff of the Presidential Executive Office.
2000-2001: Chairman of the Board of Directors of OAO Gazprom, in 2001 – Deputy Chairman of the Board of Directors of OAO Gazprom, from June 2002 – Chairman of the Board of Directors of OAO Gazprom.
October 2003-November 2005: Chief of Staff of the Presidential Executive Office.
In November 2005, appointed First Deputy Prime Minister.
March 2, 2008: Elected President of the Russian Federation.
Married to Svetlana Vladimirovna Medvedeva. The Medvedevs have a son, Ilya (born 1995).
I remember our family was on vacation in Krasnodar once and someone brought in a bucket full of crayfish. I am not certain how old I was. Before that, I had seen all kinds of creatures at the zoo only, and I was intrigued, of course, by the pail’s contents. For a start, the crayfish were green, and what’s more, they were alive, crawling around. I was warned that they bite, so I picked them up very carefully. “You watch out”, I was warned, “or else, they’ll get snap your fingers off.” It’s not hard to guess what happened next. Once all red and boiled they were no longer so interesting.
When my mother was young I thought her very beautiful. She was just over thirty when I began school. I remember how she conducted tours. I was very proud to have such a clever mother who knew so much and could tell such interesting stories. I would wait for her to come home from her evening classes and wouldn’t go to sleep until her return. I still remember listening out for the sound of the lift in our apartment in Kupchino [a St Petersburg district], where we lived then. The entrance door at our apartment was so thin that I could hear all the sounds behind it and I’d be waiting for the lift to stop on our floor. I worried if she took too long coming home.
I remember as a child watching the film Viy [based on the short story of the same name by Nikolai Gogol], which really impressed me. Kids today watch all sorts of horror movies and it just washes over them, but I had trouble sleeping for several nights after I watched that film because I couldn’t get the young Ukrainian witch out of my head.
The first book that I got real pleasure from reading was [Jules Verne’s] The Children of Captain Grant. Before that, my parents would try to persuade me to read, but I hadn’t much interest in books. This particular book was a present. It wasn’t so easy to get hold of fictional works back then. My father had a big collection of books but he did not buy much fiction. He had various collected works, scientific books, and my mother also had some complete editions of different authors. One of them was Anton Chekhov. I believe my mother was planning to write her doctoral thesis on Chekhov. Anyway, I started reading his works. So, after first discovering The Children of Captain Grant and other novels by Jules Verne, and stories by Conan Doyle, I all of a sudden began on Chekhov. But there was something about Chekhov that gave me particular pleasure.
I never made any special effort to study my family history. Until I was about 30 it seemed to me enough that there was a number of ancestors that I knew a bit about. Most Soviet people took a pretty similar view. I thought there hardly were any particularly outstanding personalities among my relatives. Unfortunately, as is the case for dozens of millions of others in our country, it is impossible to follow my family tree back through Russia’s history. Most people’s family records only date back to the end to the nineteenth century, and no one knows what went before. True, I was recently given my father’s family tree, dating back to peasants in the Kursk Region in the eighteenth century. It shows numerous forebears with the surname Medvedev, and coming from the Kursk Region.
My grandmother was the daughter of a St Petersburg worker. This great grandfather of mine vanished some time during the World War I and Bolshevik revolution, and my grandmother left Petersburg after that for a village in the Kursk Region. She was quite young still when she met my grandfather there, Afanasy Medvedev. He came from a peasant family and took part in the Bolshevik revolution of course. First, he helped establish Soviet power in his village, and as far as I know, he also took part in the collectivisation programme. He graduated from special classes in the 1930s and became a Communist Party activist. He was a political instructor in the army during the World War II. He took part in the battles at Malaya Zemlya foothold nearby Novorossiysk but never met Leonid Brezhnev [who fought in the same campaign] there. My grandfather took part in actual fighting and recalled it as an utter hell.
It really stuck in my memory how my grandfather always used to leave to catch the train at least four hours ahead of time. It was one of his habits of a military officer that he never lost. He was a party functionary and had the use of a car, but he’d nonetheless always arrive at the railway station three or four hours before the departure, with the idea that perhaps they’d let the passengers board the train early, or that if he came late he’d not manage to squeeze aboard. He was first secretary of the Communist Party district organisation at Kuban area [in the south of Russia] and believed deeply in socialist ideals. He was a very sincere person and completely disinterested. My grandmother never forgave him for the time when the Communist Party decided to reward him in the 1950s and he could have got a Pobeda car, but felt that was too much and took a gold watch instead, a gift from Nikita Khrushchev. That watch was passed down to me. My father wore it, and now I have it. My grandfather was a member of the Communist Party for more than 60 years. He rose up the ladder to become district first secretary but remained an idealist to the core. He lived a long life – he was 91 when he died. He lived through everything including Gorbachev’s perestroika and the new times that followed. He lived a very full life and was a really solid personality.
My father graduated from university in Kuban area and then came to Leningrad as a post-graduate student, where he began the scientific pursuits to which he devoted his entire life. He worked on the processes and apparatus of chemical technology. He taught at the Leningrad State Institute of Technology, gave all he had to his work, but at the same time had his own views, and this, as I understand it, sometimes caused him problems. He thought that the situation with science was not the best at the chair where he worked, that everything had got too bogged down in routine, and he tried to put forward some suggestions of his own. I have to admit I was never much interested in his work. But I remember when I was small, sometime around ten in the evening, after the Vremya news programme, I’d fall asleep to its theme music, and then, like all kids, I’d wake up again. I’d take a look about, check to see if my mother had come home yet. She was studying, attending evening classes at that time. And when I’d come out at one or two in the morning, my father always had the light on, was always sitting there writing something. That really struck me back then. Later, at six or six thirty he’d get up again and continue writing. He always had piles of papers on his desk and a huge number of books.
My mother comes from Belgorod Region. Her mother, my grandmother, had the surname Kovalyova, and her father was a blacksmith. They lived in a little town in Belgorod Region called Alexeyevka, and as far as I know, they were a prosperous enough artisan family. Judging by the photos that my aunt gave me not so long ago, they look really quite respectable for those times, well-established artisans, in short.
My mother’s father side had the surname Shaposhnikov. My grandfather worked in various places and fought in the Great Patriotic War. But his life was more ordinary than that of my paternal grandfather.
My mother and twin sister graduated from the linguistics department at Voronezh University. She arrived in Leningrad to pursue post-graduate studies somewhere around 1964, but her academic career did not go as smoothly as my father’s. I was born in 1965. She then took various jobs. She was a teacher at school, and then taught Russian and Russian as a foreign language at the Herzen State Pedagogical University. Then she took up a new hobby and attended courses to qualify as a tour guide. She worked at the Pavlovsk Palace [the summer residence of Emperor Paul I nearby St Petersburg]. I remember that period very clearly. We never had a dacha, but every summer we rented a little wooden house in Pavlovsk [in the environs of St Petersburg] for three months. To call it a house is a bit too grand really, because it only had one or two rooms. My mother conducted tours every morning around the palace and surrounding park and I often went along too. I liked it, especially the tours around the park. The tours lasted two or two-and-a-half hours, and the park and palace were magnificent. I think it’s the best of the tsars’ summer residences in all of Russia, with a beautifully landscaped park and marvellous classical palace. Overall, I have very warm memories of that period. But my mother never did return to her academic career.
Every child goes through various periods in his or her development. When I was in my second and third years of school we were all into dinosaurs and spent our time studying them, drawing them, discussing them. I even memorized all the Earth’s geologic development periods, starting with the Archean and ending with the Cenozoic. This wasn’t bad for a second-year school pupil and impressed weak-nerved teachers. In my fourth or fifth year I got interested in chemistry, which wasn’t one of my school subjects at that time. I liked doing experiments. Then I got into sports. We had training practice three or four times a week and would spend an hour-and-a-half travelling to the sports club at Vasilyevsky Island in the centre of St Petersburg.
I remember 1982 more than any other year because it was the year I finished school. The final exams were a tough period when I had to mobilise my abilities to the utmost for the first time in my life. I wasn’t one of the top students, to put it mildly. At various periods my studies were quite erratic. But the point came when I realised that if I didn’t start making a proper effort I’d never make anything of my life. In the end, I finished school with really quite decent results.
The transition from school, where you don’t have much responsibility, and university, really stands out in my mind as the time when I realised that childhood was over.
A number of my friends decided to enter technical universities. I couldn’t make a decision. They suggested I do something to bring my maths and physics up to scratch, and so I suffered for a while, forcing myself to attend extra classes, but these classes only further convinced me that this was just not my thing. In the end, somewhere around May, I decided I wanted to study something in the humanities, but could not decide between the law and linguistics departments. Finally, after talking with various people, including my parents, I decided that law was the only real choice, and I have never once regretted this choice.
When my university studies began I found myself liking it more and more with every passing day. I realised just how lucky I was to have chosen a field that genuinely interested me and that was really my thing, both at the theoretical and practical levels. I really enjoyed every aspect of my studies and of my subsequent work as a corporate lawyer when I was attending court hearings, drafting agreements, participating in negotiations in Russia and abroad – it was all interesting.
When I finished university I faced a new dilemma. I had to choose between joining the prosecutor’s office and becoming an investigator, which was considered a good career for someone like me, who’d graduated with top honours, or I could start post-graduate studies. It was at that moment that a miracle happened that hadn’t been seen for decades. The chair of civil law, where I took specialization was instructed to accept three budget-funded post-graduate students to work later at the chair itself. And so I became a post-graduate student.
Anatoly Sobchak was a very interesting person. I first met him when I was in my second year at university. He gave a course of lectures there and examined me in civil law. But I only really got to know him when he began campaigning for election as a people’s deputy of the USSR. He invited me and several colleagues from the chair to be his proxies.
I defended my doctoral thesis in 1990. At the end of August he called me and said he wanted to offer me a job. He had been elected head of the Leningrad City Council [Leningrad’s body of representative power]. I said yes, but we agreed that I would not leave the university entirely. I took office at the Maryiinsky Palace, the headquarters of the Leningrad City Council, and began working as an advisor to its chairman in the autumn of 1990. A month later, Vladimir Putin accepted a job there too, and as he had a lot more experience and professional expertise he soon became the head of the Leningrad City Council chairman’s team of aides and advisors. In other words, he became the senior advisor. We worked this way side by side for a year.
After that, Anatoly Sobchak was elected mayor of Leningrad and Vladimir Putin left for City Hall, where he became deputy mayor responsible for foreign economic relations. I had the feeling at that moment that I’d tried my hand in this work and done all I could, and that I should go back to academic and practical work in law now, hence I returned full time to the civil law chair. But Deputy Mayor Vladimir Putin and I agreed that I would serve as a freelance expert for the committee that he headed. We worked in that way for the next four years until Sobchak’s team left Smolny Palace [a historical building and residence of the governor of St Petersburg] after losing the elections
My teaching work came right at the moment when laws started changing fast. It was one thing to talk about socialist law, and quite another thing to work on law that was constantly in flux. There were a lot of new developments to keep up with. Starting in the early 1990s I began to notice that the students were changing too and that unless you were properly prepared you would end up looking completely ignorant. New times brought new demands. Students began asking difficult questions, and these questions had to be answered, for myself too. It was a constant intellectual process.
I had my academic and teaching work on the one side, and business on the other. I had established myself as a specialist in my field, as a scholar who wrote and published quite a lot. The textbook on civil law that we wrote earned professional recognition and had a print run of a million. I worked on civil law as it applies to the economy. This was the fastest changing, most rapidly developing area of law, but at the same time it is rooted in traditions going back to Roman private law. It was an area in which you could earn decent money, too. I worked for various businesses and did not turn down offers to make a bit of money. It enabled me to sort out the various problems of a material nature that had accumulated, and it was interesting at the same time. I turned into a full-fledged corporate legal advisor, working professionally on major business projects. The years up to 1999 were very productive and I felt that I had really established myself in life. Everything went along happily until the day at the start of October 1999, when the telephone rang.
It was Igor Sechin who called me. He said that Vladimir Putin wanted to see me. I said, “Good, I’ll come.” It was a Saturday. Vladimir Putin had just arrived back from somewhere, tired after travelling. We talked and he made me the offer to head the Federal Commission for the Securities Market. It was something I was interested in from an academic point of view, and I had a little bit of practical experience in the area too, though I was not a stockbroker. But the subject interested me and at one point I had even considered writing a doctoral thesis on something related to securities. I said the offer interested me but that I’d need a few days to think it over. I went back to St Petersburg and talked it over with my family, and then I said I was ready to take the job. I returned to Moscow a month later as deputy government chief of staff. The government chief of staff at that time was Dmitry Kozak. We agreed that I would work two weeks to a month to get into the swing of civil service life, and then I’d receive my actual appointment. But events developed very fast. Vladimir Putin said, “I can sign the appointment to the Federal Commission for the Securities Market right away if you want, or you can stay on here, in the government.” The Federal Commission for the Securities Market offered important and interesting work overseeing a huge and fast-growing market, while staying in the government involved bureaucratic work of the sort I’d never aspired to and that seemed to me boring. But some kind of instinct, something inside made me say that yes, I’d stay on and help. “Good, understood then”, Putin said. That was on December 29, 1999. On December 31, having just become acting president, he signed the executive order appointing me to the post of deputy chief of the Presidential Executive Office. I found out about this appointment in St Petersburg, where I’d gone to spend the New Year holiday.
I arrived back in Moscow thinking only of the job I was about to begin. There was real drive in the realisation that I had these big responsibilities at such a high level. I was perfectly happy with my new position, happy not only with the actual duties it involved, but also with its status out of the public gaze. I worked as deputy, first deputy, and then chief of staff of the Presidential Executive Office. These are all important positions in our country, directly related to political life and to organising the president’s daily work as head of state. In short, these are positions that come with substantial powers and big responsibilities, but are completely out of the public gaze. Even the chief of staff of the Presidential Executive Office, the president’s chief aide, in effect, must not take the stage as an independent politician.
Until I left the Presidential Executive Office I never considered pursuing a political career of my own, but when I became first deputy prime minister it opened a new chapter in my life. Everything changed. I went from being an aide, albeit the chief aide, to becoming an actively and independently operating member of the Cabinet and answering for a number of complex areas of national life. Some people assert that these Priority National Projects of ours are simply a matter of handing out money, but this is not the case, absolutely not. These Priority National Projects represent a serious and concerted effort to modernise our social sector and, as far as the agriculture project goes, develop rural life in general. I went through big change as an individual at that moment, stepping out of the shadows and becoming someone who not only makes decisions – after all, I made decisions during my work in the Presidential Executive Office – but also has to announce and explain these decisions to the public, inform people and justify the need for these plans, and do so in convincing fashion. This marked the start of a new period in my life. This does not mean that I decided right then and there that I should prepare myself for some kind of fateful new turn in my life and get ready to run as a candidate for president. But it was nonetheless a powerful prelude that did have its impact on me.
Of course I first discussed the idea of running in the election with President Putin. The ruling authorities’ choice of candidate for the next president is a very important matter, after all, all the more so in Russia, in Russian society as it is today. Talking about my feelings, the real emotion hit me on the day when my name was officially announced as candidate in the presidential election. All my reflections on this subject up until then simply couldn’t compare to what I felt on that day. We had discussed it all before then, but the day of the official announcement was an emotional peak, a sort of point of no return.
These were very mixed emotions. There was the sense of taking up a challenge thrown my way by fate. There was nothing I could compare it to, as it was about the highest office in the country, after all, and of course I could not help but ask myself all sorts of questions.
First of all, would I cope with the job? I reflected on it all in terms of my own experience, the way the system of government was organised, took into consideration all the different issues that any individual has, and gave a positive answer. If I wasn’t sure I’d be able to cope I’d not have given my agreement.
Second, how would this decision affect my daily life? I wasn’t thinking about myself but about the impact it would have on my family, my wife and son, and my mother. I had very mixed feelings in this respect because on the one hand, this step up to a new status was an opportunity for self realisation at the highest level, and this is something people aspire to in general. But at the same time, as far as my family was concerned, this meant above all accepting all sorts of restrictions, having to be accompanied by bodyguards, not being able to simply go where you wish, when you wish. It would also place new obligations on my wife, who, as first lady, would become rather a public figure.
It was winter vacation in my seventh year in school. We’d seen each other before but only got to know each other better during these enchanting walks together. I was fourteen and she was studying in the same year but in a different class. This was the start of a whole new page in my life. Growing up to the new feelings was really filled with strong emotions. As is always the case, I believed no one in the whole wide world had ever felt love as keenly as I did. Our romance blossomed before the eyes of the entire school. The teachers differed in their attitudes, after all, we stopped paying attention to our studies, wandered together during the breaks, left classes.
Our relationship developed, went through changes, had its ups and downs too, of course. The result was that in the fall of the last school year, my personal behaviour was graded ‘unsatisfactory’ and I was only just scraping by in all of the school subjects. The situation was grim and my parents were extremely unhappy. It was alright for me to turn up to just one class and not worry about all the lessons I’d missed, but the moment came when I realised that I was perfectly happy in this relationship and that I needed to concentrate now on finishing school with good marks. Male logic took over and in two months I closed the gap and finished school with decent results.
It is not easy performing the duties of a first lady, especially here in Russia. And these are responsibilities that have to be shouldered day in day out. There’s no getting away from it. I’m not just referring to the official trips and events where the first lady needs to be present.
I also mean the difficulties of living with all the restrictions that this status imposes. There are all manner of special rules and demands that create various restrictions. Things were a lot simpler before when my wife could plan her life quite independently. She cannot do this now because everything has to be organised around our common duties. Don’t forget either the pressure she comes under from our specific traditions that dictate that a Russian first lady should not be too active and public a figure.
I would not say that my family was particularly enthused at the idea of my becoming president. When my wife learned of this possibility she did not express any particular view or advice. We’ve known each other for a long time now, and we know each other’s qualities and shortcomings, know each other’s emotional nuances, and so she did not say any particular words.
My wife believes in a strict education. This is a normal thing: mothers are always stricter with their own children. Svetlana keeps a close eye on Ilya’s upbringing, follows closely what marks he gets in school, what he’s up to. She gets to take care of the discipline side of things, while I get to play the more pleasant role.
Over the time that we’ve been in Moscow I have practically never had the impression that our life here is having a negative effect on him, or that he’s picked up bad habits or turned into a ‘big boss’s little boy’. In any case, that’s the picture I have.
In his studies he’s no different to any boy. He has his ups and downs. He either gets completely carried away by something or else doesn’t like it at all. I think that’s not such a bad quality. I prefer it to when people are too much balanced in all of their attitudes.
Based on the book, Medevev, by Nikolai and Marina Svanidze.
Published with permission of Amphora Publishers. The book was published in July 2008.