Most people have a certain perception of who a world leader is like. They generally imagine a knowledgeable elderly man belonging to the majority ethnicity in the country.
Dmitry Medvedev, Russia’s current president, fits into all of these categories except for one. Born in 1965, Mr. Medvedev was all of 42 years old when he took power; today he is still a mere 45 years old. By the standards of world leaders, this is amazingly young.
When one imagines the president of Russia, one generally imagines somebody a bit more elderly – somebody who better fits the stereotype of a wizened old statesman. One thinks of this person as leader of a great power, controlling the world’s second-most powerful army and enough nuclear weapons to destroy the world. Mr. Medvedev is quite a departure from this image.
Many world leaders are good at looking younger than they actually are; President Ronald Reagan would probably have had a much harder time winning re-election if he actually looked like most 70-year-olds. There is a difference, however, between using enough make-up to appear young and actually being young. The latter is often somewhat startling; very few of the people one sees on television are truly young.
Mr. Medvedev, however, is truly a man in his mid-forties. He is someone that one wouldn’t expect to be a world leader if one saw him on the street. It’s almost strange to imagine a person as young as him as holding that much power.
This contrast gives some insight into why Prime Minister Vladimir Putin selected Mr. Medvedev as his successor. Mr. Medvedev, merely through dint of his youth, looks like a fresh face and a reformer. He doesn’t look like a typical bureaucrat, or one of those gray Soviet administrators who’d spent their entire life in the system. Of course, the irony is that the system selected him as president. The Russian political system clearly intends to send a message through Mr. Medvedev’s youth, much as the American political system sent a message by selecting a non-white president in 2008.