The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Russia’s obsession with whether Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev is asleep or not

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, second from left, waits for an annual address by President Vladimir Putin. (Dmitry Astakhov/Sputnik via European Pressphoto Agency)
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Let’s face it: Most political speeches tend to be a little boring. And Russian President Vladimir Putin is a man known for his ability to speak for a very long time — his marathon question-and-answer sessions have been known to last four hours or more.

So perhaps it’s understandable that Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev might be photographed appearing to doze off during a 70-minute speech from the president on Thursday.

What’s strange, however, is how many observers seemed to be expecting it.

You see, Medvedev — the mild-mannered politician who has switched back and forth with Putin in the roles of president and prime minister — has gained something of a reputation over the years.

It started at the opening ceremony of the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014.

Medvedev, sitting in the VIP stand at Fisht Stadium near Putin and other world leaders, closed his eyes as the ceremony began. As YouTube clips from state television show, he soon appeared to be nodding off.

The sight of the key Putin ally asleep provoked much mirth from anti-Kremlin bloggers and online humorists, who turned the dozing Medvedev into a meme. The picture below says, “The Olympics through the eyes of Dmitry Medvedev,” for example.

Others began using the tongue-in-cheek hashtag #поддержимДиму — or “support Dima,” a nickname for Medvedev — as a way of saying that he should be allowed to sleep if he needs to.

The situation was also made worse by Medvedev’s early and enthusiastic embrace of social media.

The sudden rush of attention to Medvedev in February 2014 meant that in the future, Russian journalists and other politics watchers kept a close eye on the prime minister when he was in the audience during official events.

They’ve been rewarded. During Putin’s 2014 annual address, state television cameras kept focused on Medvedev’s face and appeared to catch him dozing off again. It also happened at Putin’s 2015 annual address. And now, at the 2016 address. As the popular satirical Twitter account Darth Putin put it: “Medvedev falls asleep. Every. F---ing. Time.”

What explains Medvedev’s apparently persistent drowsiness? Who knows? But in 2008, during one of his epic question-and-answer sessions, Putin suggested that he and Medvedev “take turns sleeping” while the other watches over the country.

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