But who is he?
Mr. Medinsky was born in the Cherkasy region of Ukraine in 1970. But he is not Ukrainian at all. His father was a military man and his childhood was spent traveling across the Soviet Union, from garrison to garrison. In this peripatetic environment, according to close acquaintances, Mr. Medinsky was brought up with very conservative values and as a sincere patriot of the Soviet Union. Education was important too — his mother was a schoolteacher — and, in time, led him to the Moscow Institute of International Relations. A model student, he excelled in the School of Journalism and was a member of Komsomol, the Communist Party’s youth organization.
But by the time he graduated, the Soviet Union had collapsed. Mr. Medinsky had no difficulty adjusting. In 1992, with a group of classmates, he created his own advertising company, Ya Corporation. Its clients were mostly financial firms and tobacco companies. He soon became a P.R. man for the tobacco lobby — a bit like the unscrupulous main character in Christopher Buckley’s 1994 book “Thank You for Smoking.” Even so, he didn’t neglect his studies, continuing to work toward a doctorate.
That’s when I met Mr. Medinsky, when I was as an undergraduate at the institute in the late ’90s. He was 10 years older than me, aloof, and had just started to teach public relations. It was a new and very fashionable discipline, and many of my classmates, who wanted to become “P.R. people,” dreamed of learning from him. Something of a star on campus, Mr. Medinsky was considered a successful businessman and willingly supported students, taking the best of them for internships at his company.
In 2000, Mr. Putin became president of Russia, taking over from Boris Yeltsin. As any P.R. man should, Mr. Medinsky adapted to the change in atmosphere, parlaying a job in the civil service into a political career. By 2004, he was a member of parliament for Mr. Putin’s United Russia party. Despite accusations that he continued as an elected official to lobby for tobacco companies and casinos, Mr. Medinsky was a man on the rise.
It helped that he started trading in patriotism. In 2007, this former tobacco lobbyist began to write books about history — or, rather, he began to create historical P.R. In a series of books called “Myths About Russia,” he set out to debunk Russian stereotypes and to put new stories in their place. There were volumes on “Russian drunkenness, laziness and cruelty,” “Russian theft, soul and patience” and “Russian democracy, dirt and imprisonment.”