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A chip off the old block How wartime pressures drew former first son Ilya Medvedev into politics

Source: Meduza

Story by Andrey Soshnikov (Current Time), Svetlana Reiter (Meduza), and Elizaveta Surnacheva (Current Time), with additional reporting by Kristina Safonova (Meduza). English-language version by Sam Breazeale.

After years of flying under the radar, Ilya Medvedev, the 27-year-old son of former Russian President (and current Security Council Deputy Chairman) Dmitry Medvedev, has finally begun hitting some of the milestones expected of young Russian elites: he got a job at a company owned by one of his dad’s oligarch friends, he's started taking advantage of the luxury real estate his family has access to, and, more recently, he even joined Russia's ruling party. Meduza partnered with the news outlet Current Time to tell the story of how the younger Medvedev went from an aspiring tech innovator to a United Russia member who brings his friends home to luxury properties in the Moscow suburbs.

‘The type of guy you can bring home to mom’

It was 2016, and the Russian girl group Serebro (“Silver”) was charging half a million rubles (about $8,250) to perform at a banquet for an audience of students and graduates of the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO). Each attendee had paid 15,000 rubles (about $250) for food and beverages, but the band’s fee was too much for most people to split evenly.

Luckily for the guests, Serebro superfan Ilya Medvedev, the son of then-Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, was among their ranks.

According to Ilya’s once-classmates, footing the bill for his friends was not out of character for him, though he wasn’t one to throw money around or intentionally remind others who his dad was. “[He was] a typical member of the Moscow intelligentsia: very well-mannered, very respectable and tactful. The very model of a pleasant young man. The type of guy you can bring home to mom," said a woman who knew him at the time.

Ilya’s friends recalled how in college, he preferred to spend his time with people who had gotten accepted “without connections,” earning their spots through good grades and high test scores. “Imagine you’re a girl from some faraway town who got 400 points on the EGE [college aptitude test]. You might end up in Medvedev’s group and get invited with the rest of them to Medvedev’s home, where he had a servant and a private movie theater,” one of Ilya’s classmates told Meduza and Current Time.

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Dmitry Medvedev: where is he now?

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But despite his proletarian social circle, Ilya’s life was full of reminders that his dad was one of the country's top brass. Every day when he went to class, two plainclothes bodyguards went with him. If he wanted to grab a bite to eat, he had to select from a pre-approved list of cafes that had been vetted.

Outside of classes, Ilya was a member of his college’s business club, where students were guided through the process of creating a company from scratch. Ilya’s idea — unrealized to this day — was to create a “summer snowboarding park.”

According to other students who knew him at the time, Ilya tried hard to be “like everyone else.” “He wasn’t the typical show-offy rich kid — and trust me, we had plenty of those,” said one of his former classmates. “[...] When we had discussions [about politics in class], Ilya’s position, while still pro-Russian, was closer to that of his father before he resigned [from the presidency, when he was more liberal].”

Outside of class, though, Ilya Medvedev never spoke much about politics at all.

“If there were more young people like Ilya — capable, young, and ambitious — we would have regular transfers of power. Everything [in Russia] would be better,” said another of his former classmates.

The three musketeers

Ilya’s two best friends in his MGIMO days were Ivan Koptenko, the son of a former USSR Supreme Soviet deputy, and Ilya Trufanov, whose dad was a mid-level businessman. Trufanov, who a former classmate called “the most brilliant, wittiest, and most erudite” of the group, went on to study in London and Paris and now works for the French oil company Total. He was one of the first MGIMO alumni to sign a statement condemning Russia’s war against Ukraine in February 2022.

Back in high school, before he had even met Ilya Medvedev, Ilya Trufanov started dating a classmate named Yana Grigoryan. According to three people who know Trufanov personally, their relationship was very serious. “They were going to get married,” said one classmate. But Grigoryan ultimately chose another Ilya: Ilya Medvedev.

Ilya Medvedev and his girlfriend, Yana Grigoryan, at a "white party" in Sochi. September 4, 2018.
Vyacheslav Prokofyev / TASS

According to Medvedev and Trufanov’s classmates, the former president’s son “stole his best friend’s girlfriend” near the end of their time at MGIMO — and, unsurprisingly, the two boys’ friendship took a hit. “I think the only reason Trufanov let it go was because he knew you can’t get mad at the prime minister’s son,” said a mutual acquaintance.

Grigoryan and Medvedev are still together. According to another source who knows the couple personally, their relationship is “the real thing”: “They’re not a fake couple. They really go on dates.”

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Lucrative connections

“I wouldn’t want to work in a large state corporation. I’m into things young people are more interested in, like the tech sector,” Ilya Medvedev said in a 2016 interview.

Leaked tax records and anonymous sources indicate that Ilya’s wish came true: that same year, he began working for the Russian social media service VKontakte, where he made 100,000 rubles (about $1,650) a month. He left the company after a year, but three years later, he got a job at VKontakte’s parent company, then called LLC, now making 226,000 rubles ($3,730) a month. was technically not a state company, at least when Medvedev started; its majority stake was owned by Russian billionaire Alisher Usmanov. (In 2018, however, to shield the company from potential sanctions, Usmanov transferred his voting rights to the company’s management, and in 2021, he sold his stake to a Gazprom subsidiary.)

“Ilya was only able to work [at the tech company] because of his Dad’s name; they would never have hired him otherwise,” said a source close to the Russian government who spoke to Meduza and Current Time. A source close to said Ilya did something "law-related" for the company.

Two sources who worked for VK until 2021 confirmed that Dmitry Medvedev’s son worked for the company, but neither of them knew his job title. “They were talking about it within VK five years ago, but I never once saw him at work,” said a former senior manager for the company.

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Seven other former and current VK employees said the same thing: they “never encountered” Ilya Medvedev in the office. “That name — Ilya Medvedev — was nowhere to be found,” said the former senior manager. VK itself did not respond to journalists’ requests for comment.

VK wasn’t the only one of Alisher Usmanov’s projects Ilya Medvedev was involved in. One of Ilya’s former classmates told Meduza and Current Time that he ran into Medvedev several years ago in Moscow’s Imperia Tower. “I asked him, ‘What are you doing here?’ He said, ‘Well, I’m working! IT investments.’”

The tower’s construction was financed in part by the development company Solvers Estate (which belonged to Usmanov's company USM at the time, according to Vedomosti); the building was slated to become the home of the newest headquarters for the phone company Megafon, another Usmanov property.

Ilya Medvedev’s girlfriend, Yana Grigoryan, also worked at an Usmanov business after graduating. According to leaked tax data, in 2019, Grigoryan was an employee of the company Korklass LLC. Korklass belongs to IKS Holding, which is owned by Usmanov’s former business partner Anton Cherepennikov.

The fact that Ilya Medvedev and his girlfriend’s first jobs were closely connected to Alisher Usmanov is no coincidence. The billionaire has long sustained ties with the Medvedev family; in a 2017 investigation titled “Don't Call Him Dimon,” opposition politician Alexey Navalny made the case that Usmanov had given then-President Medvedev a 50-million-dollar mansion in Moscow’s prestigious Rublyovka neighborhood as a bribe (Navalny was later successfully sued for defamation by Usmanov and ordered by a court to retract the claim).

In 2017, Alisher Usmanov won a defamation lawsuit against Alexey Navalny after Navalny claimed in the film “Don't Call Him Dimon” that the company Tekhinpro was connected to a house in a village called Znamenskoye (within the Rublyovka neighborhood), and that the house had been given to Medvedev by Alisher Usmanov as a bribe. In May 2017, a court ordered Navalny and his organization to retract their statements about Usmanov, and in August of the same year, they were ordered to delete the sections of the investigation that claimed Usmanov bribed Medvedev (though Navalny refused). Usmanov himself had this to say about the land transfer, which he called an "asset exchange deal," in an interview with Vedomosti:

“I had long been searching for a way to expand my property, where I’ve lived for over 20 years, so I proposed exchanging their plot — 12 hectares — for my sister’s plot, which is some distance from me and would already have a house. [...] The foundation (Editor’s note: he’s referring to Sotsgosproekt, a charity foundation Navalny described as having close links to Navalny) gave me a huge piece of land at a nominal price, and I transferred a plot of land and my sister’s house, which I finished building, to Sotsgosproekt, as promised. 12 hectares on Rublyovka on the bank of the Moscow River costs about $50 million. The 4-hectare plot I gave [Sotsgosproekt] costs about $15–20 million, and the home costs another $30 million. So the deal came out about even. [...] Is that a bribe? That’s not a bribe at all!"

Four of the Medvedev family's Rublyovka residences

At the end of Dmitry Medvedev's presidency, Techinpro, a company closely linked to him, purchased multiple residences in the same neighborhood. Meduza and Current Time used leaked records from the medical lab chain Gemotest, which has provided COVID-19 tests for people visiting the addresses on a number of occasions, to determine that Ilya and his friends regularly spend time at one of the homes. A source close to the Russian government told Meduza and Current Time that Ilya Medvedev "really does live with his parents — either at [Medvedev's nearby former presidential residence, which he kept after his term ended], or in one of the houses nearby."

Usmanov’s response: The day after this article was published in Russian, Alisher Usmanov’s press service contacted Meduza. Here’s what they wrote (slightly abridged): “Claims that Alisher Usmanov is ‘close to the Medvedev family’ are inaccurate. Since none of the companies mentioned in the article in connection with Mr. Usmanov’s name belongs to USM holding company, we do not have information about Ilya Medvedev or his girlfriend being hired by them, and we do not have the right to confirm or deny the information about their employment there. It’s common knowledge that Mr. Usmanov has not worked in business for a long time and doesn’t participate in the management of the companies in which he once was or still is a shareholder. In addition, he doesn’t and never has made employment decisions, which was the responsibility of the managers of these companies, including Group (subsequently VK). Attempts to portray individual events from Ilya Medvedev’s career and that of his girlfriend as having some connection to the influence of Mr. Usmanov are politically motivated and misleading."

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The next generation

In late June 2022, with Russia’s war against Ukraine fully underway, the young Medvedev made a surprising move: he officially joined the country’s ruling party, United Russia. Sporting a suit and an Apple Watch, he accepted his membership card from party General Council Secretary Andrey Turchak (the son of Putin’s former judo sparring partner Anatoly Turchak).

News of the ceremony came just two weeks after a wave of reports that the visa Ilya had allegedly been using to live in the U.S. had been revoked. The news was never independently confirmed, but two days after the initial reports, Dmitry Medvedev published an angry Telegram post about how the West was illegally punishing the relatives of Russian officials.

United Russia members who spoke to Meduza and Current Time said that while they’re inclined not to believe the visa story, the public-facing party membership ceremony was still probably an attempt to dispel the rumors and prove that the son of the National Security Council Deputy Chairman “is faithfully serving the Motherland and the regime.”

Ilya Medvedev receives his United Russia membership card from Andrey Turchak. Moscow, June 21, 2022.
Ekaterina Shtukina / TASS

Whatever the case, on the day of the ceremony, Ilya Medvedev did not appear to have a clear plan for his future contributions to the party. In his acceptance speech, he promised to work on healthcare, education, children’s sports, and “digital transformation.”

In the two months since, no more details have emerged. Two sources from United Russia itself told Meduza and Current Time that they haven’t seen Ilya at any party events and don't know what his role in the organization is supposed to be. Party Deputy Secretary General Darya Lantratova said that “it’s still too early to talk about specific projects” and “Ilya Medvedev is still thinking.”

According to a source close to the Russian government, allowing his father to "enlist" him into the party was a bad career move for Ilya. “The younger Medvedev doesn’t understand anything about politics,” said the source. “Any business he wants to work with will only be damaged by the party right now."

Dmitry Medvedev himself has rarely spoken about his son in public. In a 2020 interview with Komsomolskaya Pravda, the former president had this to say about Ilya:

He’s already an adult. [...] He’s trying to work on his own business projects, including in the digital economy sector. You know, the kinds of things that are really popular with young people right now — startups. And he’s doing it himself, and enjoying it. I haven’t seen any huge achievements from him yet, but I hope it all still lies ahead.

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Story by Andrey Soshnikov (Current Time), Svetlana Reiter (Meduza), and Elizaveta Surnacheva (Current Time), with additional reporting by Kristina Safonova (Meduza).

English-language version by Sam Breazeale.

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