The New Master of the Kremlin

David Remnick, writing about how “it’s always been easier to contemplate a new master of the Kremlin by seizing on homey anecdotes,” tells us about Dmitry Medvedev:

Now comes Dmitry Anatolyevich Medvedev, the next President of Russia. Five feet four. Forty-two years old. Lawyer. Friend and longtime protégé of Vladimir Putin. Husband (wife: Svetlana). Father (son: Ilya, age eleven). Nickname in the Kremlin: the Grand Vizier. Favorite book as a boy: “The Soviet Encyclopedia.” Understands “Olbanian,” the term of art for Russian Internet slang. Practices yoga. Swims each morning and evening. Big fan of seventies schlock bands. “I’ve loved hard rock since my school days,” he told an interviewer not long ago. “Today, for example, I can boast that I have the entire collection of Deep Purple.” And, if you’re still curious, Medvedev keeps an aquarium in his office at the Kremlin. He alone is permitted to feed the fish.

When Vladimir Putin came to power, on New Year’s Eve, 1999, we learned that he was a judo expert, that he had a poodle named Toska, and that his grandfather had been a cook for Lenin. But the most salient fact about him was that he was a career KGB agent. And, in eight years as President of the Russian Federation, Putin has been as true to his school as any Old Etonian. According to Olga Kryshtanovskaya, a well-regarded sociologist in Moscow, who studies the biographies of the Russian élites, Putin has filled the leadership ranks with former officials from the KGB and the FSB. As he once told an assembly of officers at Lubyanka, “There is no such thing as a former agent.”

The most salient fact about Medvedev is not that he will have been elected by the Russian people to be their President but that he was selected by Putin to be his junior partner. Medvedev, of course, understands his role. In the speech in which he announced his candidacy, he thrilled the spies, bureaucrats, and corporate barons who depend on Putin for their status and their wealth by declaring that, if, perchance, he was lucky enough to win, he would make Putin his prime minister. It was at that moment that Dmitry Medvedev became five feet three.

What a summary! What is there left to say about Medvedev after this?

I’ve read four books by Remnick, by the by, and recommend them all highly. (1, 2, 3, 4.) They are all exemplars of the art and craft of reporting and non-fiction writing.