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Cablegate: Svetlana Medvedeva Steps Into the Spotlight

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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

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