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Webmedev? Russian president's new blog gets earful from the masses

Medvedev launches a new blog just as the Kremlin cracks down on Internet free speech in Russia.

By Correspondent / April 24, 2009

MOSCOWRussia is going to the blogs.

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Or so it may seem after the country's first Internet-savvy Kremlin leader, President Dmitry Medvedev, set up his own wide-open LiveJournal blog (click here to visit) aiming, according to his press secretary, to bypass bureaucratic barriers and engage his voters in direct and uncensored conversation.

Three days after the site was established, featuring video statements taken from Mr. Medvedev's Kremlin website, the president has yet to weigh in personally on any of the thousands of sometimes politically-charged comments posted by Russian visitors sheltering behind anonymous nicknames as various as "homo sapiens," "glukhoi" (deaf), and "uncle Sam."

Among the missives sent Medvedev's way that have so far gone unanswered was an early complaint by "Voros1," who asked: "What's the point of writing anything here, he won't read it anyway."

Another blogger, going by the impolite moniker "govnyashki," which is probably better left untranslated, also doubted that the president would be tuning in at all. "Tell Dmitry [Medvedev] that his blog is dull, tedious, and awful," he advised the Kremlin press handlers.

Others, however, appear to take it quite seriously.

"Wow, I've left a comment on the LiveJournal of our president. I am cool," wrote "skaiper" on Friday. "As for you Dmitry Anatolyevich, I wish that you could revive Mother Russia. I believe in you."

Another, "senseone," wanted to know if he could use the site to go over the heads of officials in his hometown: "Can I complain about our local authorities here?... So that they'll get punished later?" Nyet

The LiveJournal social networking site has nearly 3 million Russian language users, and Medvedev's blog is something of a latecomer. Other leading Russian politicians, including oppositionist Boris Nemtsov, liberal billionaire Alexander Lebedev, and upper house parliamentary speaker Sergei Mironov, have had online presences there for quite awhile.

But the Kremlin's bold move online has triggered a storm of discussion among the old-fashioned commentariat, some of whom praise Medvedev for breaking through the suffocating filters imposed by officialdom and appealing straight to the person-on-the-street.

"It's a serious political move," says Vyacheslav Igrunov, director of the independent Institute of Humanitarian and Political Studies in Moscow. "He's seeking to win his political independence, to establish his own personal face."

Mr. Igrunov's suggestion is that Medvedev, a self-confessed Internet geek, may be using the medium to differentiate himself from his still-powerful mentor and predecessor, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who used to hold marathon televised press conferences (for more on these, click here), but has yet to venture into cyberspace.

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