The reassignment of the Kremlin’s top political strategist to a job as deputy prime minister was a demotion sparked by a dispute with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, reports said yesterday.
The Kremlin on Tuesday announced that Vladislav Surkov, the man credited with designing Russia’s tightly controlled political system, was leaving his job as deputy Kremlin chief of staff and would take charge of economic modernization.
Russian newspapers said the move was sparked by differences with Putin over future political tactics that broke out earlier this year and intensified after Russia was rocked by mass protests following parliamentary elections.
“Surkov has his vision of the development of events after the mass meetings and his opinion differs from that of Putin’s circle,” the Vedomosti daily quoted a source in the Kremlin administration as saying.
It said that Putin’s circle was also unhappy that Surkov — whose reputation for political manipulation had taken on an almost mystical allure in recent years — had failed to prevent the protests breaking out.
“It seems that Surkov had got tired of his role — whether it was as Faust or the Devil,” wrote the opposition Novaya Gazeta newspaper.
The pro-government Izvestia daily said that Surkov’s differences with Putin dated back to the announcement in May of the creation of an All-Russian Popular Front (ONF) to rally support for Putin, in which Surkov was not involved.
Izvestia described Surkov and his successor as Kremlin first deputy chief of staff, former top ruling party official Vyacheslav Volodin, as “long-time rivals” and noted Volodin had been one of the instigators of the ONF.
Russian media said it appeared that Volodin would take on Surkov’s responsibilities for political strategy, but cautioned there was no reason to assume he would be any softer than his predecessor.
“We could see the fact that Surkov was sidelined as a sign of change, but we need to be careful and say it is a sign of the possibility of change,” the Novaya Gazeta said.
“Because it is now Vyacheslav Volodin — another fan of democracy — who will be in charge of the political chess game,” it added sarcastically.
The sacrifice of Surkov, branded the Kremlin’s “puppet master” by enemies and friends alike, is also a rare admission of failure for Russia’s “alpha dog” leader: Surkov’s system was Putin’s system.
With irony worthy of Surkov’s cynical novels, the Kremlin’s 47-year-old political mastermind was shown grinning on state television when told by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev that he would oversee modernization as a deputy prime minister.
When asked why he was leaving the Kremlin, Surkov deliberately misquoted a slogan from the French Revolution, saying: “Stabilization is eating up its children.”
Almost in passing, Surkov told Interfax news agency he would not be running domestic politics after nearly 13 years doing exactly that.
“I am too notorious for the brave new world,” he said.