Prominent Russians: Natalya Timakova
A bubbly red-head and Premier Medvedev’s right hand, Natalya Timakova has made the transition from somebody who nitpicks at politician's speeches to one who helps put words in politicians' mouths.
She started out young. While a philosophy student at Moscow State University, Timakova covered politics first for the sensationalist Moskovsky Komsomolets newspaper, then for the more yuppyish Kommersant daily.
In 1996, the 21-year-old Timakova joined the Kremlin's press pool. By then, President BorisYeltsin had lost much of his initial public support and was fighting tooth and nail for reelection. Timakova was one of the reporters accompanying him on the campaign trail - an assignment that reportedly introduced her to many of the contacts that would later prove vital for her meteoric rise within the Kremlin hierarchy.
When Boris Yeltsin appointed then little-known Vladimir Putin as his acting Prime Minister in 1999, many experts suggested the appointment had as much to do with image priming as with power struggle. An energetic and strong-minded deputy propping up an old and ailing president.
The same analysts later speculated that the appointment of Putin's press secretary followed a
similar logic. A young and petite Timakova with her ever-changing hair color was thought to
smoothen Putin's ironclad image. Rumor had it that Putin wasn't immediately on board with this
arrangement, hesitant about the age and gender. But eventually Timakova's appointment became
the first in a series of young women's spectacular career rises within the Kremlin.
In 1999, Timakova coauthored First Person - a memoir-style book that provided the Russian
public with a first intimate look at Putin.
Corridors of power
When Vladimir Putin won the presidential election in 2000, Timakova lost her job as his press secretary. What at first glance seemed like a collapse, actually proved yet another step up the career ladder - Timakova was appointed deputy head of the presidential press service. In 2004, she became head of department, but was still subordinate to Alexey Gromov who served as presidential press secretary at the time.
While in those years Timakova's work was mostly administrative, it was then that she acquired most of her influence. In 2007, citing an anonymous source Kommersant reported that Timakova was one of the closest associates of Dmitry Medvedev, first deputy prime minister at the time.
Medvedev was widely viewed as one of the most likely candidates for the 2008 presidential election. According to Kommersant, it was Timakova who shaped his image prior to the vote, helping him make the transition from an overweight academic in a creased suit to a slick and polished leader. She was always on hand to straighten his tie or get his facts straight.
In May 2008, when Medvedev was elected president, Timakova became Russia's first woman to be appointed presidential press secretary. Yet she doesn't count herself a feminist.
"It doesn't matter whether you are a man or a woman. I always believed that the most important
thing is to be a professional," she revealed in an interview to Russian Vogue.
Known for her infectious laughter and occasional fish-net tights, Timakova has the reputation of
a liberal boss. When one of her former colleagues was expelled from the Kremlin's press pool in
the 1990s, she, a Kommersant reporter at the time, penned an angry commentary suggesting it
wasn't up to officials to manage journalists.
And while the rules of conduct in the current presidential pool are far tighter than they used to be
in the 1990s, Timakova has succeeded in avoiding the image of disciplinarian.
Having been a civil servant for over a decade, Timakova says she enjoys it. "This is really
interesting work. Of course, the main stimulus for me is not money but the ability to make
decisions," Timakova said in her interview to Russian Vogue.
Yet the jet-setting life is not for everyone, she concedes. "Men are less emotional, and physically
stronger. When you have to visit four African countries in four days and spend 40 hours in a
plane, this is a serious test for your body."
Asked about her plans for the future, Timakova said she would be interested in trying herself out
in business: "Possibly in government relations or something else. But you have to realize it's not
entirely up to me."
Timakova is married to Alexander Budberg, a journalist with extensive connections in Russian
liberal circles. Her husband is a board member of the Institute of Modern Development
(INSOR), which is believed to be behind many of Medvedev's policy initiatives. They have no
Written by Oksana Boyko, RT correspondent