'Like a snow flurry in the night, Medvedev's impact is fleeting'

Seat-warmer or genuine cohort? Either way, his time is ending. By Shaun Walker in Moscow

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The Independent Online

Previous inhabitants of the Kremlin, be it Ivan the Terrible, Joseph Stalin or Vladimir Putin, have tended to inspire both awe and fear. But with four days left of his four-year tenure as President, Dmitry Medvedev evokes rather different emotions in his citizens.

Mr Medvedev, a diminutive lawyer who has known Vladimir Putin for two decades, was carefully manoeuvred into the Kremlin by Mr Putin in 2008, when the latter had to step aside due to a constitutional ban on serving more than two consecutive terms. Throughout his rule, he has functioned with the majority of people assuming he was a seat-warmer for Mr Putin, who as prime minister still appeared to be calling the shots.

There was talk that if he won a second term as president, he might be able to enact real reform. Then, last September, it was announced that Mr Putin was coming back after all. Mr Medvedev, apparently, had been a lame duck all along.

One of the most popular satirical digs at the Russian President has been on Twitter. Shortly after Mr Medvedev set up his own Twitter account, a spoof account was set up, entitled Kermlin instead of Kremlin. The account, which lampooned Mr Medvedev's personality and political programme with ruthless satire, soon became one of the most popular Twitter feeds in Russia and has around 300,000 followers. Its authors are a young Russian couple called Sasha and Masha. Part of the reason it was so popular, says Masha, is that Mr Medvedev is such a laughable figure. "There used to be a tradition in Soviet schools that one day per year, the teachers would pick the best students, and those students would teach the class for the day," she says. "Medvedev has always looked like this, with those big eyes and that silly expression. He looks like the student who has been put in charge of the class."

Analyst Yevgeny Gontmakher said Mr Medvedev has started an irreversible trend. Educated Russians no longer trust the authorities, he said, and when they were told that Mr Medvedev was not returning for a second term that could have been more impressive, thousands took to the streets to protest against Mr Putin.

But Masha says: "We'll all forget about him so quickly. It's like when it snows in the night and the machines come and clear it up before dawn.

"When you wake up, there is a vague feeling it has been snowing, but hardly any sign of it. That's the level of impact he's made."