He looked like a liberal who would come to an agreement with the West, believe in modern technology and wish for reforms for Russia. Today he appears as a fanatical screamer, hating the West and thirsting for blood. Former Russian President and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.
The official spokesman of President Vladimir Putin is Dmitry Peskov, but when the head of state is in a bad mood or angry, Dmitry Medvedev behaves this way. As president, he led Russia from 2008 to 2012, then he was prime minister until 2020. He is now the vice chairman of the Federal Security Council.
It is enough to compare some of the statements of the fifty-seven-year-old politician, who signed the new START treaty on limiting the number of strategic offensive weapons with American President Barack Obama at Prague Castle thirteen years ago. Today he gives the impression that he could easily use one of them.
June 7, 2022: “I hate them. They are bastards and deviants. They wish Russia dead. As long as I live, I will do everything to make them disappear.”
September 27, 2022: “Russia has the right to use nuclear weapons.”
November 4, 2022: “Russia is at war against the dying world with its immoral customs (…) We are able to send all enemies to hell fire (…) We listen to the Creator’s words in our hearts and follow them. These words give us our sacred goal. The goal is to stop the supreme ruler of hell. (…) We are at war with a dying world, with a bunch of crazy Nazi junkies, with a large pack of barking dogs of Western breeding and with a motley herd of grunting pigs.”
January 19, 2023: “A nuclear power has never lost a war on which its fate depended.”
February 4, 2023: “All the territory of Ukraine that remains under the rule of Kiev will burn.”
February 24, 2023: “The risk of nuclear war must be clear to any Western politician who has retained even a shred of intelligence.”
February 27, 2023: “What our enemies do not understand is that pumping weapons into Ukraine will lead to loss for all. To collapse. To an apocalypse in which there will be no life as long as the ruins are filled with radiation.”
March 24, 2023: “We must go deeper into Ukraine to create a buffer zone and have peace. Nothing can be ruled out. If we have to go to Kiev, we will go to Kiev. If we have to go to Lviv, then to Lviv to destroy the infection. “
April 8, 2023: “Ukraine is a parasite, sucking blood from the neck of the decaying European Union. Nobody needs it.”
April 25, 2023: “The world is sick and on the brink of a new world war.”
May 3, 2023: “The drone attack on the Kremlin gives us no other option but to eliminate Volodymyr Zelensky and his clique in Kyiv.”
All of Medvedev’s statements were published either on the Telegram social network or were quoted by one of the Russian state press agencies. No other Russian politician usually expresses himself in this way. Only the speeches of regime propagandist and TV presenter Vladimir Solovyov, who constantly calls for nuclear attacks on the capitals of enemy countries, or the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, are comparable. He said that the defeat of Russia would mean the end of the world.
Talk about modern Russia
If we were to go back just a decade, we would find a completely different Medvedev. He reveled in improving Russian-American relations, planned to create a Russian equivalent of the American Silicon Valley near Moscow – in the town of Skolkovo – and spoke of the development of modern technologies in Russia as his priority. He said he does not remember fondly the era of the Soviet Union.
Former US President Barack Obama describes it mostly positively in his 2020 memoir, The Promised Land. “Medvedeva was fascinated by the Internet, he asked me about Silicon Valley and talked about how he would like to support the Russian IT sector. He was keenly interested in how I exercise and told me that he swims for half an hour every day. He admitted to me that he suffers to hard rock bands like Deep Purple,” Obama wrote of meeting him at the presidential residence outside Moscow in 2009.
That same year, Medvedev published an essay entitled Russia Forward. In it, he criticized Russia’s dependence on the export of oil, gas and other mineral resources. He identified the modernization and innovation of the economy as his goal.
When he visited Washington as president, Obama unexpectedly took him to Ray’s Hell Burgers restaurant, where they enjoyed fries and a hamburger. Today, such a thing is unthinkable.
In 2011, Russia surprised the world by abstaining from a UN Security Council vote on a resolution authorizing the use of force against Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi during the North African country’s civil war. The decision was later criticized by Putin, and part of the Russian power structures blamed Medvedev for showing weakness and giving in to the West at the expense of Russian interests, as the rebels later overthrew Gaddafi with the support of the US, France and Great Britain.
After all, Medvedev’s reputation as a relatively pragmatic Russian politician resulted from his very election to the presidential position instead of Putin, who in 2007 could not run for a third consecutive term. In addition to Medvedev, then Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov was also discussed as a candidate. And he was seen in the West as a hawk who misses the hostility and tensions of the Cold War.
He plays what is needed
So what happened to Medvedev? There is speculation that his long-term marriage is in crisis or that he often indulges in too much alcohol. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba alluded to this recently when he said in an interview with the German newspaper Bild that Medvedev should not drink so much vodka before posting on social networks.
A great expert on Russia, the British historian Mark Galeotti, wrote on Twitter that Medvedev’s forceful statements are rather an expression of his own weakness in the Russian leadership. “I think he has no ambitions to replace Putin, but he is mainly concerned with preventing his fall, no matter how the situation develops. He has no influential friends among the security forces,” he wrote. Silovici is a designation for influential Russians in the so-called power structures, such as the army, the Ministry of the Interior, the Federal Security Service or the GRU military intelligence.
New Cold War author and Russia expert Edward Lucas argues that Medvedev’s earlier reputation as a pro-Western and moderate pragmatist was undeserved. “He always acts according to the mood in the narrow power circle in the Kremlin. When he is wanted to be a liberal, he plays a liberal. When he has to be a radical, he is a radical,” says Lucas.
According to him, Medvedev, unlike other Russian leaders, could speak English and was interested in technology, which caused many to see him as pro-Western. Yuri Andropov, the former longtime head of the Soviet secret service KGB, was said in the West to speak English and listen to jazz. But in reality he was a staunchly convinced Bolshevik who saw the West as an enemy.
Former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger also wrote in his memoirs about how tricky it is sometimes to give different labels to someone in the Kremlin – no matter what regime is in power. It concerned the Soviet prime minister in the Brezhnev 1960s and 1970s, Alexei Kosygin. “Among our experts, Kosygin had a reputation as a man who was more liberal than Brezhnev. Based on my contacts with him, I considered this a superficial judgment. As chairman of the Council of Ministers (of the Soviet government – ed. note), he had control over the day-to-day operations of the government except for security and foreign policy. This inevitably required a certain pragmatism. He was fascinated by Western technology and could speak eloquently about the benefits of increased trade with the United States. But in areas that did not involve economic issues, such as foreign policy, Kosygin struck me as orthodox, if not downright rigid . It almost seemed as if he compensated for managerial pragmatism with the strictest obedience on ideological issues.”
After all, the opinion of Putin was also evolving in the West. Initially, he was evaluated as a politician who mainly wishes to raise Russia economically and based on the fact that the spirit of the Cold War is definitely in the past. US President George W. Bush, after his first meeting with Putin at the Ljubljana summit in 2001, uttered the legendary line: “I looked the man in the eye. I consider him very honest and trustworthy. We had a very good conversation. I was able to sense, what a soul he has: a man deeply devoted to his country and looking out for its best interests.”
Whenever in the future a Russian politician is referred to as a liberal or a pragmatist, one must beware – as the past shows – on his guard.
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