Svetlana Medvedeva: Socialite wife moves into the spotlight

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The Independent Online

At a Red Square victory concert on Sunday night, Vladimir Putin milked the crowd like a rock star, while Dmitry Medvedev looked shy and uncomfortable. But if the younger man still has a lot to learn from his mentor about how to hold himself in public, when it comes to the women behind them, the roles are reversed.

Enter Svetlana Medvedeva – a gregarious blonde with a broad smile and a penchant for wearing clothes from the hottest Russian designers. A socialite who is often spotted at swanky parties and fashion show, Mrs Medvedeva is also a devout Orthodox Christian, heading a special commission set up by Russia's Patriarch that aims to inculcate spiritual values among Russia's youth.

Dmitry and Svetlana go back a long way, meeting in the first grade of school when both were just seven years old, though it took a few years for romance to blossom. "Dima [Dmitry] was just one of several suitors," a former classmate told Sobesednik magazine. "He was quite shy and there were more aggressive guys chasing after her."

But persistence paid off and, according to Mr Medvedev, they had become a couple by the age of 14. "Sveta came into my life and I stopped caring about school," he said in a recent interview. "It was much more fun to walk with my future wife than to sit with my textbooks."

Mrs Medvedeva studied economics at university in St Petersburg while her sweetheart studied law across town. They were married in 1989, and Svetlana gave birth to their son Ilya seven years later. In a sign that Mr Medvedev's dictum "freedom is better than no freedom" doesn't extend to the home, he ordered Svetlana to become a housewife. "From time to time, Sveta did say that it would be good to find some additional activity, but I explained that, in my opinion, it is better for the family if the wife stays at home," he said.

Despite the household patriarchy, the signs are Mrs Medvedeva will become a favourite of the Russian paparazzi. She is a far cry from Mr Putin's wife Ludmilla – who almost never appears in public. Already, Mrs Medvedeva is being compared to Raisa Gorbacheva, the first lady of the Soviet Union's last leader.

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