Medvedev the Forgotten BBC Russia profiles the former president’s political life since becoming a former prime minister
In a new report for BBC Russia, journalist Pyotr Kozlov profiles Dmitry Medvedev’s political life since losing his job as prime minister in January 2020. “Roughly two dozen sources at the highest echelons of the Russian government” mostly told Kozlov that Medvedev has been unhappy in his new position as deputy chairman of Russia’s Security Council. The former Russian president has apparently been busy trying to make a comeback, albeit without much success. Meduza summarizes what BBC Russia discovered.
The most important thing to happen to Dmitry Medvedev this year appears to be his failure to win a spot among United Russia’s leading nominees, despite being the party’s formal leader. BBC Russia correspondent Pyotr Kozlov points out that Medvedev made a concerted effort ahead of United Russia’s national convention to return himself to Russia’s public eye, granting interviews and writing essays in an attempt to promote his candidacy in the September 2021 elections. One source told the BBC that this amounted to “shadow boxing” with Sergey Kiriyenko, the Kremlin’s domestic policy czar, though the final decision was up to President Putin.
Kozlov’s sources stressed that Medvedev’s unpopularity with voters made him a poor choice to lead United Russia through this year’s difficult elections, but others pointed out that his nomination would have reignited talk about Putin’s possible retirement and search for a successor in 2024 when his current presidential term ends. (Nominating prominent politicians like Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin or Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin could also have encouraged such speculation, says the BBC.) The presidential administration prioritizes keeping Vladimir Putin’s “transition” options as open as possible, sources told Kozlov.
Dmitry Medvedev’s political clout has collapsed since leaving the federal government’s cabinet. Several of his old allies have been removed from power and some are even in prison, like the billionaire Magomedov brothers, former Open Government Affairs Minister Mikhail Abyzov, and former Economic Development Minister Alexey Ulyukaev.
BBC Russia’s sources also highlighted that Medvedev himself hasn’t always demonstrated blinding ambition to return to the public spotlight. He could be doing far more with his position in the Security Council (notably with Russia’s pandemic response, the BBC’s sources argue); instead, he opted for a more “relaxed” work schedule. Even his wife is doing less public charity work, these days.
Kozlov’s article includes a whole section about the location of Medvedev’s Security Council office — a room in the Presidential Administration’s building at Staraya Square where Leonid Brezhnev once worked. Medvedev apparently avoids his new office like the plague (yes, in part because of the coronavirus pandemic). Sources told the BBC that Medvedev dislikes the association with Brezhnev and the Soviet Communist Party (he’s a modern fellow, after all), and he’s reportedly very “uncomfortable” around the security officials (siloviki) who populate the Security Council. At times, he’s tried to reassert himself as Russia’s leading “systemic liberal” (by writing articles about international politics, for example), sometimes provoking what seems like criticism from silovik heavyweights like Nikolai Patrushev, the Security Council’s secretary.
But some sources say Medvedev’s new obscurity is deliberate: he’s merely laying low, staying out of the headlines, and biding his time as a potential Putin successor. According to the BBC’s report, many of Medvedev’s rivals have indeed turned their attention elsewhere in the past year and a half. It’s also possible that Putin moved Medvedev to the Security Council so he’d have an “alternative view” on its operations, establishing “tacit control” over the siloviki.
Before this fall’s elections got underway, Medvedev’s best hope for a return to public politics was being elected to the Parliament and serving as the State Duma’s speaker. The Kremlin rejected this idea for multiple reasons, one of them being that Medvedev would be harder to control as speaker than incumbent Vyacheslav Volodin (who also wasn’t eager to see Medvedev take his job). Putin’s domestic policy team reportedly wanted to move Medvedev to the Federation Council, but he has adamantly opposed this and said so publicly. (In order to pressure the former president, an early draft of Russia’s Constitutional amendments would have forced Medvedev to accept a senator’s seat within three months, but this deadline disappeared from the final text.)
Despite all these bumps in the road, sources told BBC Russia not to count out Medvedev just yet. The ex-president has a knack for working with former adversaries, and his unquestioned loyalty to Vladimir Putin makes him valuable. Medvedev apparently found God after becoming president, more than a decade ago. Perhaps he’s right to think himself blessed.