Medvedev Taking Words From Putin's Mouth

MTWhile President Vladimir Putin's first term saw the introduction of significant changes, protests during the "monetization" fiasco in early 2005 appeared to lessen his appetite for reform.
First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has promised to continue Vladimir Putin's policies after his likely landslide victory in the March 2 presidential election.

He appears to be continuing Putin's speech patterns as well.

In his public appearances since Putin publicly endorsed him for president in December, Medvedev has displayed a style of articulation that political allies and pundits say intentionally mimics that of the tough-talking Putin.

"Freedom is better than the lack of freedom -- this principle should be at the core of our politics," Medvedev said in a speech at the Krasnoyarsk Economic Forum last week, sharply stressing the first syllable of each word and pausing for effect, just like his mentor. "I mean freedom in all its manifestations -- personal freedom, economic freedom and, finally, freedom of expression."

Medvedev's cadence and enunciation are no accident, said Sergei Markov, a Kremlin spin doctor and State Duma deputy from United Russia, the party that nominated Medvedev for president.

Specialists have worked with Medvedev to make his voice sound "tougher" in response to focus-group data showing that voters want "someone like Putin," Markov said.

But the strategy may not last long after the election, he added.

"Now he is picking up Putin's style, but in the future he will correct it," Markov said.

Given that Putin and Medvedev have the same image makers, their increasingly similar affectations come as no surprise, said Ilya Ponomaryov, a Duma deputy from pro-Kremlin party A Just Russia. By having him talk like Putin, Medvedev's handlers are emphasizing that he is the president's heir.

"[Former President Boris] Yeltsin was not so popular in our country, so Putin had to do his best to distance himself from him," Ponomaryov said. "Now the situation is different. Any resemblance to Putin is only positive."

A Just Russia, along with political parties Civil Force and the Agrarian Party, have backed Medvedev's candidacy.

Maria Sergeyeva, Medvedev's campaign spokeswoman, said she was unaware of any changes in Medvedev's articulation. "We cannot comment on this because we have no information about it," Sergeyeva said.

By parroting Putin's speech, Medvedev is also reassuring voters that the relative stability under Putin will continue after he leaves office, said Alexei Mukhin, head of the Center for Political Information.

"The powers that be want to make people understand that nothing is going to change under a new president," Mukhin added.

Medvedev has only recently begun studying up to become president, and the first step of any apprenticeship involves imitation, "like babies do with adults," said political analyst Yury Korgunyuk, who said Medvedev was even imitating Putin's gait.

"When he becomes president he will develop his own way of walking and talking, and then we will have Putin parroting him," Korgunyuk said. "This is how things work in our country."

Sergei Dorenko, a linguist and radio show host with Ekho Moskvy, said it was natural for Medvedev, 42, to imitate Putin.

"Medvedev is young, and Putin is the only president he has seen," Dorenko said.

Putin's predecessor, the late Yeltsin -- famous for bouts of slurred speech and drunken public shenanigans -- was hardly an example, nor was former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev with his heavy southern accent, Dorenko said.

"Before them we had the old and dying [Konstantin] Chernenko and the other old and dying [Yury] Andropov," Dorenko added.

It is not the first time that Medvedev has taken to imitating his boss, said Stanislav Belkovsky, a Kremlin spin doctor turned political analyst.

After his appointment as deputy head of the presidential administration in 2000, Medvedev began to speak and behave like Alexander Voloshin, then head of Putin's administration, Belkovsky said. At one point, Medvedev took things too far, adopting Voloshin's habit of showing up late for work, Belkovsky said. "Putin told him he could come late when he was the next Voloshin," he said.

Voloshin could not be reached for comment.

Despite the verbal mimicry, it is highly unlikely that President Medvedev will become a puppet in the hands of Putin, who has agreed to become prime minister after Medvedev's likely election, a government official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.

"When he understands that the tough voice and diction he is now acquiring are his own, he will become a completely independent president," the official said. "He will be close to Putin only for a few months to learn the job."

Putin, after all, consulted with Yeltsin daily during his first six months in power, the official said. "After that we saw what he did," he said.

Medvedev is not the first Russian politician to imitate Putin: First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov, once widely seen as a leading contender to succeed Putin, also adopted articulation strikingly similar to Putin's before Medvedev's anointment in December.

Nor is imitation reserved exclusively for Putin, said Vladimir Yevstafyev, vice president of the Russian Association of Communication Agencies, an organization of advertising and marketing companies. "Some time ago, everyone in [Unified Energy System chief Anatoly] Chubais' team spoke like Chubais," Yevstafyev said.

Chubais, a former deputy prime minister and former head of Yeltsin's administration, was the architect of the voucher system that transferred thousands of state-owned companies into private hands in the 1990s.

"It's nothing new in Russia to imitate the boss," Yevstafyev said.