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Viewing cable 08MOSCOW2306, SVETLANA MEDVEDEVA STEPS INTO THE SPOTLIGHT

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
08MOSCOW2306 2008-08-08 06:06 2010-12-01 21:09 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Embassy Moscow
VZCZCXRO6107
OO RUEHLN RUEHPOD RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHMO #2306/01 2210609
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 080609Z AUG 08
FM AMEMBASSY MOSCOW
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 9361
INFO RUCNCIS/CIS COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHXD/MOSCOW POLITICAL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 MOSCOW 002306 

SENSITIVE 
SIPDIS 

E.O. 12958: N/A 
TAGS: PGOV SOCI PINR RS
SUBJECT: SVETLANA MEDVEDEVA STEPS INTO THE SPOTLIGHT 

1. (SBU) Summary: Since Dmitriy Medvedev's election to the 
post of president, a degree of uncertainty permeated the 
press as the public tried to figure out what role his wife, 
Svetlana Medvedeva, would play in the new administration. 
The role of First Ladies in Russia and the Soviet Union has 
often been a contentious issue. Some, such as Raisa 
Gorbacheva, were quite active and frequently seen in public, 
while others, such as Lyudmila Putina, were more reclusive 
and less involved in state affairs. Due to her recent 
involvement in the planning for the "Day of Family, Love, and 
Fidelity," many have compared Medvedeva to Gorbacheva, but 
that analogy seems less apt; instead she seems to be 
altogether a new type of Russian First Lady, one who is more 
active than Putina, but -- for now -- less flashy than 
Gorbacheva. 

Previous First Ladies 
--------------------- 

2. (SBU) In a May 14 article, Georgiy Zotov of the Moscow 
daily Argumenty i Fakty attempted to compare the roles of 
several Russian first ladies to set-up a context for 
Medvedeva's recent activities. While Naina Khrushcheva did 
travel with her husband to the U.S., she was not involved in 
his decision making. Viktoriya Brezhneva was not involved in 
her husband's public life. Raisa Gorbacheva was perhaps the 
most controversial; the public saw her as being overly active 
and her stylish dress provoked much criticism as the Soviet 
Union teetered economically. Yet Zotov asserted that Mikhail 
Gorbachev would not make any decisions without first 
consulting her. Naina Yeltsina always traveled with her 
husband but spent her time smoothing his increasingly erratic 
edges, while devoting her many energies to philanthropy. 
Then there was Lyudmila Putina, the least active publicly of 
all First Ladies. Putina typically appeared at those events 
required by protocol and avoided making public statements. 
Over time, as rumors started over her health and the 
extramarital pursuits of her husband, she became increasingly 
remote, frumpy (to a condescending Moscow elite), and distant 
from public life. She even chose not to accompany her 
husband to Sochi for his farewell meeting as president with 
President Bush. 

Svetlana Medvedeva as First Lady 
-------------------------------- 

3. (SBU) Svetlana Medvedeva does not fit neatly into any of 
these roles. After graduating from the Leningrad 
Financial-Economic Institute in 1987, she worked for several 
years but gave up her job at the behest of her husband when 
their son was born in 1995. Yet many have characterized her 
as the driving force both in the family and in Dmitriy 
Medvedev's career. Sources close to the couple describe 
Medvedeva as charismatic, and as having opened up doors for 
her husband, then a non-important law school professor in the 
early 90's when they lived in St. Petersburg. Recently, she 
has worked almost exclusively on a variety of cultural and 
philanthropic initiatives and has a strong connection with 
the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC). Some of her activities 
include the Festival of Russian Art and the Council for the 
Spiritual-Moral Culture of the Rising Generation of Russia 
that was founded by Aleksey II. 

Criticisms of Medvedeva 
----------------------- 

4. (SBU) Few have directly criticized Medvedeva in the 
media -- a taboo set by Putin as president -- most simply 
have noted her previous social habits. When the couple moved 
to Moscow as Medvedev's governmental career took off in the 
mid-1990's, Medvedeva was known to frequent elite parties, 
fashion shows, and the circles of high society. Many have 
noted her penchant for high fashion, just like Gorbacheva, 
which is why the two are often compared. However, on 
becoming First Lady, Medvedeva took a half-step back from 
public view, most likely once again at Medvedev's behest. 
She and the Kremlin seem cognizant of the attention that is 
being placed on her and are trying to find a balance between 
the reclusiveness of Putina and the perceived 
ostentatiousness of Gorbacheva. XXXXXXXXXXXX attributed
his inability to interview  Medvedeva in person as "over
cautiousness" by Medvedev's  handlers, fearful of inciting
public opinion against an  "overly ambitious" Kremlin spouse. 

5. (SBU) Most recently, Medvedeva took the national stage 
with planning for the new Russian holiday, the "Day of 
Family, Love, and Fidelity." Medvedeva was at the forefront 
of this project's spiritual and moral realm because of her 
links with the ROC. The holiday was celebrated on July 8 

MOSCOW 00002306 002 OF 002 


because, according to the Orthodox Church's calendar, this is 
the holy day for the patron saints of families. According to 
a Russian legend, a Ryazan peasant's daughter named Fevroniy 
cured a prince Peter from Murom, who then married her against 
the wishes of his family. They lived a long and happy life 
together, died within hours of each other, and in 1547, were 
canonized. While festivals have been held in Murom on this 
date for centuries to celebrate the two saints, some 
political observers noted to us the irony of this childless 
couple being chosen to headline Russia's pro-family message. 
While discussing the holiday with the media, Medvedeva summed 
up her role in the initiative, saying "A woman should by her 
nature strive for humility. Her mission is to keep peace and 
love in the family. Of course, today's couples are more 
inclined to a balanced relationship." 

6. (SBU) While there has been no direct criticism of 
Medvedeva and this recent family-based initiative, the 
government's policies towards the demographic problem 
continue to be criticized for not effectively addressing the 
political, cultural, and economic causes of the problem. 
Olga Vorobyeva, chair of Social Statistics and Demography at 
Russian State Social University, said that initiatives 
addressing the demographic problem need a two-pronged 
approach, improving family-life values and the public 
mentality. She also cited housing problems and access to 
education as contributing factors. Mikhail Nikolayev, Deputy 
Speaker of the Federation Council, said that the economic 
problems of families are not being adequately addressed by 
the government. Nikolayev also stressed the need for 
spiritual and moral education. 

Comment 
------- 

7. (SBU) As president, Medvedev has said that he wants 
Russians to be optimistic about their country's future, and 
Medvedeva has carefully chosen to spearhead an issue that 
clearly conforms to his priorities. While she took an active 
role in planning the "Day of Family, Love, and Fidelity," she 
has been careful not to attract too much attention to 
herself. Despite Medvedeva's fascination with high fashion, 
she -- or her handlers -- has made an apparent conscious 
decision to avoid unflattering references to Gorbacheva; 
instead she has chosen to chart her own path, publicly 
engaging in philanthropy and work with the ROC, while 
purportedly exerting influence on Medvedev behind the scenes. 
RUBIN