Meet the First Lady in Waiting

Itar-TassDmitry Medvedev's wife, Svetlana, attending the Stefanel charity bazaar at the Italian Embassy in Moscow in May.
As world attention falls on Dmitry Medvedev, the spotlight has flickered and fallen on everything around him -- including his wife, Svetlana, who seems certain to succeed Lyudmila Putina.

Should she become first lady, Svetlana Medvedeva -- who reportedly counts singer Alla Pugachyova and designer Valentin Yudashkin as friends -- will enter a world that differs little from the one she inhabits now.

Medvedev's childhood sweetheart, Medvedeva has received a medal from the Orthodox Church for her social work, has been a curator of fashion shows in Milan and has shown a distinct lack of political ambition.

Judging by previous presidential wives, it's just the combination that Russians like in a first lady.

"What can I say about Sveta?" Irina Grigorovskaya, who taught both of them for five years at School No. 305 in St. Petersburg, said by telephone Tuesday. "She was a good student and a very pretty girl. By nature she always seemed like a homebody to me, a humble girl. It was obvious that she would grow into a real woman.

"She was very nice, easy to talk to, and I think she has stayed the same," Grigorovskaya added.

The two were married in 1989 and have a 12-year-old son, Ilya. Medvedeva studied at a financial academy in the northern capital.

While Putina was little known before her husband, Vladimir Putin, became prime minister in 1999 and president in 2000, Medvedeva has already carved a role both as a society figure and an organizer of fashion events.

Medvedeva attended a show of Yudashkin -- the favorite designer of Russia's social elite -- at which the designer said she was the "new prima donna," Express-Gazeta newspaper reported last month.

Medvedeva first met Yudashkin at a housewarming party thrown by Pugachyova, the country's top pop diva, the newspaper said.

Medvedeva has also helped organize art and fashion shows abroad, including the Festival of Russian Art in Cannes earlier this year, Vedomosti reported. The Russian Culture Fund, headed by film director Nikita Mikhalkov, organizes the festival.

Medvedeva was the curator of a charity fashion show organized by the fund in Milan as part of a celebration of 40 years of partnership between Milan and St. Petersburg.

"She does a lot for Russian fashion, bringing designers to a world level. She has a good sense of fashion and always looks elegant," said Tatyana Mikhalkova, the wife of Mikhalkov and head of Russian Silhouette Fund, which took part in the show, Vedomosti reported Tuesday.

Medvedeva was far from a fashion queen in school, though it was largely out of her control.

"It was impossible to stand out among your classmates back then because everyone wore the same brown dresses with black aprons," said Grigorovskaya.

Not confined to fashion, Medvedeva currently heads the board of an educational program called "The Spiritual and Moral Culture of the Next Generation of Russia," which is backed by the Russian Orthodox Church. Culture and Press Minister Alexander Sokolov is also on the board.

Father Kiprian Yashchenko, who is in charge of the program, called Medvedeva a "very energetic woman."

"If she starts something, you can be certain that she will do it well," Yashchenko said, noting that Medvedeva helped secure funding for an Orthodox film festival

The church presented her with a medal in November.

The focus on Medvedeva comes at the same time as an exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary History on Tverskaya Ulitsa called "The First Ladies of Russia in the 20th Century."

Raisa Gorbacheva, whose stylish clothes cast an unfavorable light on previous Communist leaders' wives, remains the country's most famous first lady. She was widely adored and despised for appearing to be the equal of her husband, former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

"In Russia, a strong first lady might imply a weak leader," David Marples, professor of history at the University of Alberta, told The Moscow Times last month.