Blanket Baby Coverage for Medvedev

ReutersMedvedev meeting the Grigoryevs and their latest addition, newborn son Alexei, during the presidential candidate's visit with the family on Wednesday.
First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, anointed by president Vladimir Putin in December as his favored successor, met with the family of the 100,000th child born in Moscow in 2007 in a visit that had all the trappings of a campaign event.

Political analysts said the visit, which was covered on all of the national news, was aimed at reinforcing the idea that social issues will be the top priority for the man almost sure to be the country's next president.

The recipients of the visit were the parents of Alexei Grigoryev, one of 11 babies born in the early evening of Dec. 26, each of whom was designated the 100,000th child born in Moscow in 2007 and awarded a special medal by the City Hall.

Medvedev's spokespeople would not comment on why the Grigoryevs, Svetlana and Dmitry, both graduates of Moscow State University, had been chosen for the visit.

Alexei, the couple's third child, has two older sisters.

"This is a great event not only for your family, but also for the country," television showed Medvedev saying as he held Alexei in the Grigoryev's Moscow apartment.

Medvedev, a long-time confidant of the president, was named by Putin as his preferred successor last month, and then backed by the pro-Kremlin United Russia and A Just Russia parties. A survey of 1,600 Russians conducted by the Levada Center in December revealed that 79 percent of those polled would have voted for him if elections had been held on the next Sunday. The actual vote is set for March 2.

"The last time there was [a 100,000th baby born in Moscow in one year] was in 1989, which means it was in another century and another country," said Medvedev, who oversees social projects in the Cabinet.

Part of the government's policy to address what it regularly stresses as a "demographic crisis" has been to offer financial perks to larger families in an effort to boost the birth rate.

Medvedev said Wednesday that he hoped the Grigoryev family would inspire others, and asked Svetlana Grigoryeva if she felt any different after Alexei's birth than after that of her first child. She said it was a much better this time, without elaborating.

Dmitry Astakhov / Ria-Novosti
Dmitry Medvedev sitting with the Grigoryevs, whose child officials say was the 100,000th born in Moscow in 2007.
"This is very pleasing to hear. Your opinion is very important to us," Medvedev said, Interfax reported.

Dmitry Grigoryev, who works as a translator and tutor, complained that the couple and their children had to live with their parents, as they did not have an apartment. He said they had already spent eight years on city list to receive a place of their own.

Medvedev asked First Deputy Mayor Lyudmila Shvetsova, who accompanied him to meet the Grigoryevs, if there was any way the city could help the family. Shvetsova sheepishly replied that, with the birth of a third child, "there are legal reasons to expedite the process," Interfax reported.

While covering Medvedev's comments during the visit, the television reports did not carry a single remark by the Grigoryevs, giving the report the feel of a campaign announcement.

Medvedev has enjoyed a huge advantage in television coverage in recent weeks over the four other men who have announced their candidacy for the presidency -- Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov, Liberal Democratic Party leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky, former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov and Democratic Party of Russia leader Andrei Bogdanov.

The latest example was the blanket television coverage of Medvedev being greeted by Patriarch Alexy II and then standing beside him during an Orthodox Christmas service in the Christ the Savior Cathedral on Monday. The spot beside the patriarch has been Putin's regular place during the services in recent years.

Putin celebrated the holiday this year in Veliky Ustyug, the town 650 kilometers north of Moscow that claims to be the home of Ded Moroz -- the Russian equivalent of Santa Claus.

"Medvedev is out to demonstrate to the people that social issues and spirituality will dominate his agenda as the future president," said Alexei Mukhin, a political analyst with the Center for Political Information.

Social problems have proved to be an issue that touches a nerve with voters, explaining the focus of Medvedev's campaign, analysts said.

Surveys by the Levada Center before and after the Dec. 2 State Duma elections revealed that people were more eager to vote for a party offering better social programs than offering messages concerned with national grandeur or civil rights, said Leonid Sedov, another analyst with the center.

Medvedev's focus on social issues appeals to the expectations of many voters of a paternalistic state and a fatherly leader who provides and cares, said Yury Korgunyuk, a political analyst with the Indem think tank.

"Over the next few weeks we will see many television reports of this type, showing Medvedev patting heads and asking people how they are doing," he said.