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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Medvedev's Removal Welcomed

The removal of Sergei Medvedev, lackluster press spokesman to President Boris Yeltsin, was greeted with sighs of relief in the Moscow press corps and the hope that, finally, information would begin to flow from the presidential press service.


In the year-and-a-half since Medvedev's appointment, journalists have almost ceased to look to the press spokesman for news. Medvedev, unlike his colorful predecessor, Vyacheslav Kostikov, was not given to floating trial balloons or imposing his own mark on events. He was the quintessential party man, saying what he had been clearly primed to say, acting more as a check on the flow of information than as a facilitator.


Medvedev, admittedly, had a difficult job to do: As spokesman for an ailing president in a time of fierce political intrigue, he was often put in situations when duties to his boss and duties to his "clients" -- the Moscow press corps -- were clearly in conflict.


It was an unfortunate position for Medvedev, whose reports for Ostankino television during the August 1991 coup earned him a reputation as a courageous and honest journalist. It cannot be easy to look former colleagues in the eye and give them deliberately misleading information, as Medvedev was forced to do on more than one occasion.


One of the clearest examples of this occurred in July 1995 during Yeltsin's first serious illness, when the presidential press corps released a photograph of the president to prove that he was in satisfactory condition. The Russian press proved pretty much conclusively that the picture had been recycled from several months earlier, but Medvedev adamantly denied it. Looking directly into a news camera, he put his credibility on the line by insisting that the photo was genuine.


After that performance, any utterance on Yeltsin's condition from the presidential press service was bound to be suspect. When the president had his second heart attack, in the fall, top aide Viktor Ilyushin gave the press its clearest, most accurate information.


Journalists learned that "we do not have any information on that" was the best that Medvedev's people could come up with in sticky situations.


What the president needs, and what the press deserves, is someone who can provide timely, clear and truthful information about the president and his activities, and who can work with the press in getting the access they need to do their jobs.


Sergei Yastrzhembsky, Medvedev's replacement, is fondly remembered as a top professional by Moscow journalists who knew him as spokesman for the Foreign Ministry in the early 1990s. It remains to be seen whether he will be any more skillful than his predecessor in juggling his often conflicting responsibilities.