WASHINGTON — Once known as a moderating influence within the Kremlin, former Russian President and current Kremlin top security adviser Dmitry Medvedev has recently become a surprisingly bellicose presence, using long and harsh posts on the social network Telegram to justify the invasion of Ukraine, revising the history of the 20th century and threatening the West with nuclear war.
In a post from late July, Medvedev described President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky under the influence of “psychotropic substances”. In other, he said that American democracy was little more than the totalitarian dystopia described in “Animal Farm,” George Orwell’s famous novel.
“If anyone does not agree, they will be deprived of rations, crushed or sent to slaughter,” Medvedev wrote. In the same post, he accused the Americans (and their British “lackeys”) of promoting their exceptionalism with “Nazi delight.”
Everything has come to what Russian scholar and broadcaster Mark Galleoti calls “hysterical hawks” aimed at raising Medvedev’s profile among siloviki (loosely, “tough guys”) around President Vladimir Putin.
“I think he thinks he has to overcompensate and sound even more upset than they are,” Galleoti told Yahoo News. “And, humans are human and therefore prone to self-righteousness, you may even be forcing yourself to believe it.”
If nothing else, Medvedev seems aware that his new persona seems jarring, a fact that doesn’t seem to bother him. “People often ask me why my Telegram posts are so harsh.” wrote in June, in apparent response to his critics. “The answer is that I hate them. They are bastards and scum.”
In a recent post on VKontakte, another popular social network among Russians, Medvedev suggested that the Kremlin had plans for Georgia and Kazakhstan, both former Soviet republics and Ukraine. “All the nations that inhabited the once great and powerful Soviet Union will once again live together in friendship and understanding,” Medvedev wrote, promising that the “mistake of the early 1990s,” i.e., the dissolution of the USSR, ” it will be corrected. ”
The post was quickly deleted, with Medvedev claiming that was hackedBut the incident only added to the litany of absurdly ahistorical claims and exaggerated threats that have baffled observers who remember the once-affable Medvedev as a far more approachable pro-Western moderate than Putin, who served both as his predecessor and successor in the Kremlin.
Lately, Medvedev seems intent on mimicking Putin’s belligerence, perhaps hoping to eventually replace him. The performance has stunned many in the West, given how unlikely such an effort will succeed, and how much it has cost Medvedev, who once associated with Western elites at Davos, in global reputation.
“He is trying to rebrand opportunistically. And what he has really done is become a kind of vanguard for some of the most extreme views and narratives in the Kremlin, making them mainstream,” Russia expert Samuel Ramani told Yahoo News.
According to Nina Khrushcheva, an international affairs expert at the New School, Medvedev is not influential or smart enough to outdo the Kremlin’s rivals for power, such as the security chief. Nikolai Patrushev either Sergio believe me. But even if he never rules Russia again, Medvedev’s displays of zeal over the Ukraine war may be necessary to prevent him from becoming irrelevant, an unthinkable proposition for someone whose life has been so closely associated with Putin’s nationalist project. . “He may be saying all of this to make sure he doesn’t get removed for disloyalty,” he wrote to Yahoo News in an email.
In any case, Medvedev is making his views known, in what has become a disturbing exercise in geopolitical makeover.
“Even by the standards of the Putin regime, this man is clearly unhinged,” said European diplomat Carl Bildt. wrote on Twitter after Medvedev warned of possible nuclear war if the International Criminal Court took action against Russia for alleged battlefield atrocities.
“The fall and fall of Dmitry Medvedev”, ran a recent headline in Foreign Policy, reflecting the deep disappointment of a man who once invested in Western hopes for reform, hopes that, today, seem little more than fantasy. Thirteen years earlier, the same outlet had described him as “Russia’s geek in chief.”
A lawyer by training, Medvedev is, like Putin, a native of St. Petersburg. The two met in 1990, with Medvedev serving as Putin’s consigliere as he rose through the ranks of Russian power. Medvedev rose with him, eventually serving as Russia’s president from 2008 to 2012, a gap that would allow Putin to return as Russia’s leader after a constitutionally mandated hiatus. (In 2020, Putin changed the russian constitution to afford to serve effectively in perpetuity.)
During his time as Russia’s leader, Medvedev never materialized into the reformer that some in the West hoped for, though broke up with putin for offering support to Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi. And in a foreshadowing of his Telegram habits, Medvedev was criticized in 2011 for retweet a message compare a political opponent to a “stupid sheep that gets fucked in the mouth”. The Kremlin blamed the retweet on a low-level tech support employee, and the obscene post was removed amid controversy.
The target of that message was Alexander Navalny, then emerging as the leading critic of what Russia had become under Putin. In 2017, Navalny released a 40 minute documentary alleging that Medvedev had engaged in corruption on a staggering scale. Although corruption was not unusual among the nation’s political and business leaders, Medvedev was the country’s prime minister, one who had worked, albeit unsuccessfully, to present a friendly image to the West.
“He owns huge pieces of land in the most elite areas; he manages yachts, apartments in old mansions, agricultural complexes and wineries in Russia and abroad ”, Navalny wrote in an attached report. “All this property was bought with bribes from oligarchs and loans from state banks.”
At the beginning of 2020, Medvedev resigned as Prime Minister of Russia, in what was widely seen as a demotion precipitated by Putin’s loss of confidence. He was appointed a member of the Security Council, a position he held two years later when Russia decided to invade Ukraine.
Here Medvedev saw his opportunity. With Russia increasingly isolated, he turned to Telegram to defend the invasion of Ukraine, and much more.
“The West’s frenzied Russophobia will apparently never bottom out,” he wrote in his first message, posted on March 17, as Russia’s initial offensive. to a standstill and the generals and janissaries around Putin looked for someone to blame. At least Medvedev had an answer and was willing to share it.
Four days later, in a post viewed some 938,000 times, Medvedev called Poland’s leaders “political idiots” for siding with the West against Ukraine. The post raised concerns about a wider conflict in Eastern Europe, as Poland had become an epicenter for refugees fleeing Ukraine and Western weapons flowing to the front lines. Any attack on Poland, a NATO member, would trigger the kind of continent-wide war that some had feared all along. “We should take this seriously”, Ukraine expert Alina Polyakova, Director of the Center for European Policy Analysishe said of Medvedev’s baffling message.
In April, he mockingly contrasted the green energy vows made by Western nations with the anxieties raised by sanctions against Russian oil and gas: “I think the day is not far off when a smiling Greta Thunberg will appear in Europe in advertisements for American gas stations. Medvedev wrote, adding a smiley face emoji for emphasis.
critics have long accused Medvedev of drinking excessively, and there have been other allegations about his personal life. However, he seems determined to rehabilitate his image with Putin. Whether he can do it and rise in the Kremlin once more is another question.
“I don’t think Medvedev is seriously imagining that he has another shot at the presidency,” says Galleoti, whose Podcast “In the shadow of Moscow” he often delves into Kremlin intrigues. “I think she’s just desperately trying to hold on to some relevance.”
As any social media user knows, online provocation is a way of attracting attention, and Medvedev certainly seems to be an expert in that regard.
In a June post, he referred to Ukraine’s demand for an energy lend-lease program which will last until the fall of 2023, to help mitigate the impact of sanctions on Russian oil and gas. “But who said,” she reflected, “that there will be a Ukraine in two years on a world map?”
The message attracted 2.9 million views.