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Report from Russia: President-Elect Dmitry Medvedev and Issues of Concern to the Jewish Community

Posted: March 7, 2008

Dmitry Medvedev, who was elected March 2 to succeed Vladimir Putin as president of Russia, is a familiar figure to Russia's Jewish community.  "This is the politician that we have had more encounters than with anyone else, excluding Vladimir Putin, and we have always had a complete understanding, with Dmitry Medvedev, as a smart and experienced participant of the dialogue," said Rabbi Berl Lazar of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia.  On issues of concern to the Jewish community fighting hate crimes, supporting Jewish institutions, foreign policy in the Middle East President Medvedev will likely continue the policies of President Putin.


Hate Crime in Russia


Medevded's statements as a high-profile Kremlin official and, later, as vice prime minister and Putin's endorsed presidential candidate, reflect his concern over the serious problem of xenophobia in Russia.   


At a press conference on January, 18, 2007, almost a year before he started his presidential campaign, Medvedev said Russian law enforcement needed to fight hate crimes more aggressively by prosecuting the crime of "provoking ethnic discord" together with other charges.  On October, 1, 2007 he addressed the issue again in a speech to foreign alumni of Russian universities, remarking that Russia is one of the few countries that admits the presence of xenophobia in its society and is ready to make serious efforts to counter it. "The state machinery will fight against xenophobia," he said.


Ironically, Medvedev was the target of an anti-Semitic campaign by Russian ultra-nationalists, who charged that he was of Jewish descent and therefore unsuited to lead Russia.  (Medvedev was baptized in the Russian Orthodox Church.)  Similar tactics had been used in the past against President Boris Yeltsin and other prominent politicians.


Supporting Jewish Institutions


As vice prime minister, Medvedev made a series of appearances at major religious events, including a visit to the Moscow Jewish Community Center for its high-profile Chanukah celebration.  One meeting with the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia concerned issues of religious education, including government support for Jewish schools.  At another meeting, he spoke of the state's obligation to provide the freedom for all of the Russian Federation's communities to develop their culture.


Both the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia and the Russian Jewish Congress  expressed their support for President-elect Medvedev.


Foreign Policy in the Middle East


Recent statements by Medvedev and Putin indicate that Russian foreign policy on the Middle East will continue unchanged.  While supporting a secure Israel and promoting Russian-Israeli economic and cultural ties, Russia has supplied nuclear technology to Iran and advanced military equipment to Syria and Iran, and has advocated a policy of engagement with the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas.


In a major foreign policy speech during his election campaign, and in an obvious reference to Iran, Medvedev said, "Russia is not planning to break a relationship with so-called problem states that often inflict negative emotions on the international community. It is our responsibility to continue those relationships. It would be the most unproductive to break those relationships and move on to bombing."


This report was prepared by ADL's office in Moscow.

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