Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Medvedev Was Waiting in the Wings

President Vladimir Putin may have called Alexander Voloshin's resignation "a mistake" on Friday -- after popping in at the outgoing head of the presidential administration's farewell staff meeting -- but nearly four years ago he had already named Voloshin's replacement.

In early 2000, as Kommersant journalists compiled a collection of interviews with the then-acting president, Putin said he planned to keep Voloshin on for "about two years" and named the little-known Dmitry Medvedev as a suitable replacement.

But when the "From the First Person" compilation was published, there was no mention of Voloshin's tenure to be found.

Former President Boris Yeltsin's daughter Tatyana Dyachenko and Valentin Yumashev, who ghostwrote Yeltsin's memoirs, made sure the prediction was edited out, "so as not to offend Sasha," according to a report in Kommersant on Wednesday.

Now with the last high-profile representative of Yeltsin's inner circle clearing his Kremlin desk, attention has focused on his replacement and former first deputy.

Medvedev, 38, is perhaps best known as the man behind the ongoing overhaul of Russia's bureaucracy, the head of Putin's presidential election team in 2000 and the man who, as board chairman of Gazprom, engineered the ousting of former CEO Rem Vyakhirev in a single marathon meeting in 2001.

Soft spoken and smooth talking, Medvedev has something in common with the Kremlin siloviki, who like him hail mostly from St. Petersburg, said Nikolai Petrov of the Carnegie Moscow Center.

"He is capable of smooth talking for an hour and a half and yet you won't remember what he has said and might not remember what he looks like," Petrov said.

"He is as inconspicuous as a chekist should be."

Medvedev is no security service officer, however. He comes from another institution whose graduates now tread the Kremlin halls: the St. Petersburg State University's law faculty.

"I remember the students wrote him a note of thanks, which they hung on the timetable board," recalled Nikolai Kropachev, dean of the law faculty and chairman of the Ustavnoi court in St. Petersburg, who knew Medvedyev as a student and later as lecturer in Roman and civil law at the faculty.

"They wrote to say what a good lecturer he was and how much they loved him."

"In Russia the word inteligent normally refers to an intellectual of the Chekhovian mold," Kropachev said in a telephone interview.

"Dmitry Anatoliyevich is an inteligent, but not the kind you often get in Russia that weeps for his country. He is a qualified specialist, morally pure, bold and demanding."

It was soon after defending his civil law thesis in 1990 that Medvedev first met Putin.

A month after Medvedev became an adviser to Anatoly Sobchak, then the chairman of the city's council of people's deputies, Putin also joined Sobchak's team.

When Sobchak became mayor of St. Petersburg he appointed Putin his deputy and put him in charge of foreign affairs.

"We communicated frequently," Medvedev told the Vedomosti newspaper in 2000. "We worked together for a year and a half alongside Anatoly Alexandrovich.

"After this I returned to the law faculty and started to practice practical jurisprudence. Vladimir Vladimir-ovich's career continued to grow. He offered me the post of consultant to the committee for foreign affairs. Our active communication continued until he left for Moscow [in 1996], after which we had virtually no contact. It was renewed only after Vladimir Vladimirovich became prime minister [in August 1998]."

In an interview with the Vek newspaper in March 2000, Medvedev explained his move to Moscow.

"It started with a telephone call in October 1999: They said that Vladimir Vladimirovich wanted to talk. I came down and was invited to work in the government.

"From Nov. 9, I worked as the deputy head of the government apparatus and from Dec. 31 [the day Putin was appointed acting president] I became deputy head of the presidential administration."

Medvedev's appointment as Gazprom board chairman in the summer of 2000 was seen as a victory for the Kremlin as it sought to rein in the asset-stripping excesses of the company's old guard and it helped pave the way for Vyakhirev's ouster in the pivotal May 2001 board meeting. It also saw his political clout soar.

Despite comments by Putin on Thursday, the same day Medvedev was appointed, that liberalization of the Gazprom share market would come in a "matter of months" rather than years, analysts said they were not holding their breath.

"Isn't a matter of 36 months the same as a matter of three years?" said James Fenkner, head of research at Troika Dialog.

"I'd love to see it happen, but we've been so close to this so many times it is hard to believe. It is always waiting for one signature or one statement or one this or one that."

But Fenkner said he saw little ominous in Medvedev's appointment. "He's generally seen as a reformer, so it wasn't as scary as people thought." Many had expected Voloshin to be replaced by someone from the secret services.

"It was interesting when the rumors [of Voloshin's resignation] started to circulate on Monday evening," Fenkner said. "It just proves that the candidates of good and evil switch chairs depending on when you're talking about them. I remember a time in 2000 when Voloshin was considered the weakest link in the Family armory and then all of a sudden he's the defender of rights."

Medvedev may not be the most colorful character in Putin's inner circle, but Vladimir Pribylovsky, head of the Panorama think tank, said this may change with time.

"Medvedev looks sort of gray, but perhaps it's because he hasn't had that many opportunities to display his potential," Pribylovsky said.

Up in St. Petersburg, the law faculty posted congratulations on its web site for two of its freshly promoted former students.

As well as Medvedev, Dmitry Kozak, who graduated from the law faculty in 1985, two years before Medvedev, was promoted to become his first deputy.

Offered congratulations on the success of his former pupils, Kropachev's reply was swift.

"Congratulate Russia that such people are in power."

Staff Writer Simon Saradzhyan contributed to this report.