The Guardian – Monday December 10, 2007
Black Sabbath may not have too many fans with a penchant for sky-blue suits and pink Polo shirts, but the next president of Russia is a devoted follower.
"I've loved hard rock since my schooldays," Dmitry Medvedev told an interviewer in April, showing off a pair of two metre-high speakers shaped like rockets in his pastel-shaded living room. "Today, for example, I can boast that I have the entire collection of Deep Purple."
At 42, the man who is from Monday almost certain to be the next leader of the world's biggest country is the young, liberal face of the Kremlin and a protege of the president, Vladimir Putin.
Less hawkish than Sergei Ivanov, the former defence minister previously thought of as the frontrunner to take the Kremlin in 2008, he has cleverly positioned himself as a modernising patriot who refrains from the rhetorical tub-thumping of his rivals from the security structures, the siloviki.
He rejects the term "sovereign democracy", put forward by the Kremlin's chief ideologist, Vladislav Surkov, but says Russia has a fully functioning civil society (it doesn't) and must not abandon its traditions.
Medvedev is one of a group of lawyers from Putin's St Petersburg circle who have uneasy relations with the president's former KGB colleagues.
As first deputy prime minister responsible for "national projects" to revive healthcare, education, housing and agriculture since 2005, Medvedev has been given acres of television coverage.
His dual role as chairman of the vast Gazprom monopoly puts him at the vanguard of Russia's revival on the back of high energy prices. One of his most famous photographs shows the politician frying an omelette for a babushka in a newly gasified village.
Medvedev's frequent meetings with young families, his casual clothes and his homey interviews (he practises yoga and likes swimming) have been carefully crafted to identify him with Russia's emerging middle class: a new generation that can afford to redecorate their apartment, get broadband internet, buy a decent stereo and go on holiday to Turkey.
Born on September 14 1965 into a family of professors, Medvedev was known as a conscientious student who voluntarily joined Soviet work gangs collecting potatoes on weekends.
He married his school sweetheart, Svetlana, and their son Ilya was born in 1996. Moving swiftly through the ranks, he headed Putin's successful campaign for the presidency in 2000 and later became his deputy chief of staff.
Medvedev's critics say he is a devoted Putinite with little charisma and no independent powerbase. As chairman of Gazprom, the huge and opaque state energy giant, he is inextricably linked with the push to squeeze out private businesses and consolidate state control over natural resources, and with the use of raised gas prices to bully unfriendly former Soviet neighbours such as Georgia and Ukraine.
If, as expected, Medvedev takes the presidency with Putin's blessing next March, analysts say the face of power in Russia will shift to accommodate Putin as some kind of "national leader", or possibly as prime minister in charge of the pro-Kremlin United Russia faction in parliament. In this scenario, the siloviki would remain loyal to Putin, and be largely under his control.
What seems certain is that Putin and Medvedev are extremely close allies who will have already thrashed out their division of power down to the last detail.
Last updated 11/12/2007