A great article on the resignation of Vladislav Surkov by Brian Whitmore at Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty’s blog, the Power Vertical.
So is Surkov playing some deeper game here? Mikhail Rostovsky, chief political analyst for the daily “Moskovsky komsomolets,” thinks so.
“Russia’s former chief puppet master has refused to play the role of the loser in Putin’s puppet theater,” Rostovsky wrote this week.
“I venture to suggest that the government chief of staff’s departure was not part of Putin’s plans,” Rostovsky continued. “Why? Because in the political drama that Putin is now playing out, each person has been assigned his own role. The president’s own role was to constantly kick the government and exclaim: ‘You losers! You are failing to execute my edicts!’”
Writing in the Moscow Times yesterday, Georgy Bovt looks at changes in Kremlin policy that have been coming into force, not since Vladislav Surkov resigned his post of Deputy Prime Minister last week, but since his being replaced as Kremlin Chief of Staff by Vyacheslav Volodin last year. Volodin is also in the spotlight today in the wake of the ridiculous spy scandal (the arrest of blond wig-wearing alleged C.I.A. member Ryan Fogle), as it is an indication, notes Reuters, that President Vladimir Putin is resorting increasingly to tactics under Volodin’s instruction ‘that hark back to his Soviet and KGB past. Volodin is even sometimes mentioned in the same breath as Vyacheslav Molotov, one of late Soviet dictator Josef Stalin’s foreign ministers. Like Molotov, he is often called “Iron Arse” for spending long hours at his desk.‘ Volodin’s appointment is evidence that the Kremlin no longer needs a ‘grey cardinal‘ (the nickname previously held by Surkov), says the FT, because the time of subtlety has ended, and Volodin is to oversee a much harsher crackdown.
Yet Surkov’s departure will not have a major impact on domestic policy because the new course was already set one year ago, when Vyacheslav Volodin replaced him as head of the presidential administration. Volodin’s political program has already resulted in laws placing limits on nongovernmental organizations, protest rallies and other rights and freedoms, as well as in controls on the elite that bar officials and politicians from opening bank accounts abroad and purchasing foreign stocks and bonds. The authorities decided to create the impression it is trying to fight corruption among government officials to co-opt that battle from the opposition.
TODAY: Rosbank chairman held over suspected bribes; witness at Navalny trial says he did not have authority to commit the crimes he is accused of; Golos to continue actions despite ‘foreign agent’ threats; Medvedev on business laws, Putin on corruption; Fogle saga draws laughter; United Russia loses a member.
A criminal case has been opened against Rosbank chairman Vladimir Golubkov, who is being held on suspicion of receiving illegal monetary compensation; he is accused of receiving over $1 million in bribes in just one year. A video of police raiding Rosbank’s offices and confronting Golubkov has been posted online. The news is expected to have a knock-on effect for Société Générale, Rosbank’s parent company. The trial of anticorruption blogger and opposition figure Alexei Navalny resumed yesterday in Kirov. A Kirov official, who testified yesterday, said that Navalny could not have carried out the theft he is accused of, because he did not have the necessary authority. His lawyer also reiterated her opinion that the case against him is politically motivated. Independent elections watchdog Golos says it is determined to continue its activities, despite threats to label it as a ‘foreign agent’ and remove its legal status. Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev says he intends to make laws for businesses simple and clear, in a bid to make the current system more welcoming for entrepreneurs. Addressing all four Duma factions, President Vladimir Putin praised his deputies, and spoke about the need to combat corruption.
TODAY: St. Petersburg gay rights activists plan to rally; three men questioned over ‘homophobic’ murder; case opened against Golos; nationalists detained over high-profile murders; Storchak says trust must be restored; Medvedev organises audits for state-funded projects; Netanyahu to visit Russia.
Gay rights activists in St. Petersburg have announced that the city will take part in the International Day Against Homophobia on May 17, despite the city’s law’s banning ‘homosexual propaganda’. LGBT rights group Vykhod has reportedly received permission to hold a rally. Three men in Volgograd are being questioned in connection with the brutal murder of Vladislav Tornovoi last week, thought to be connected with his alleged homosexuality (the victim’s family denies he was gay). The murder is part of a much wider problem of intimidation of and violence against gay people, rights groups say. Having already fined it last month for activities relation to ‘functions of the foreign agent’, the Justice Ministry has now opened a case against independent election watchdog Golos for failing to register itself a ‘foreign agent’. Two alleged nationalists have been detained, in Serbia and Ukraine respectively, on suspicion of involvement in ‘a number of high-profile murders’ including that of lawyer Stanislav Markelov in 2009 and judge Eduard Chuvashov in 2010. The two reportedly are members of the Militant Organisation of Russian Nationalists.
Charles Clover of the Financial Times has a very good piece on the resignation of Vladislav Surkov from the Kremlin. Despite being the creator of “sovereign democracy,” there are a number of reasons why we will miss his lighter touch. Things are going to get much, much rougher in Russia from here going forward.
Mr Surkov had an “ironic” attitude towards his own political creations, Mr Guelman says. He wrote rock lyrics, hung a picture of Che Guevara on his wall and even penned a novel under a pseudonym about a cynical ghost writer who sells his literary creations to the highest bidder – an awkwardly self referential celebration of political venality.
But the playful, postmodern attitude of the Surkov days has been replaced by a more ideological and confrontational approach under Mr Volodin, with an accent on nationalism and anti-westernism.
Television news, criticised for bias and propaganda under Mr Surkov, has become “immeasurably worse”, according to Mr Nossik. The news constantly warns of foreign threats to Russia’s statehood, while programmes have portrayed US parents as serial child abusers following a December ban on US adoptions.
“The message we get from TV today is basically that Americans drink the blood of Russian babies,” says Pavel Zarifullin, director of the Lev Gumilev Center, a Moscow think-tank.
Experts point out that while Mr Volodin is a very different grey cardinal, he is presiding over a very different Russia than that of the Surkov era.
Mr Surkov oversaw politics during a decade in which oil prices quadrupled, average real incomes tripled and Mr Putin was still seen as a fresh face. Today, however, the economy is sputtering, incomes have stalled and Russians are tired of Mr Putin, whose popularity has slipped back to levels last seen in 2004.
TODAY: Homophobia-driven murder leads to accusations against Kremlin; 59 detained in connection with Occupy; Surkov dismissal shows isolated Putin; U.K.’s Cameron leaves Russia with assurances of shared goal on Syria; plans to sell arms to Syria show Russia-U.S. discord, Kasparov says the sides have no common ground; Cyprus loan extension not final; Voina intercepted in London.
Investigators say that the torture and murder in Volgograd of 23-year-old Vladislav Tornovoi was a homophobic attack, with government critics blaming recent laws against ‘homosexual propaganda’ for encouraging homophobia. Gay rights activist Nikolai Alekseyev said the case ‘demonstrates the fruits of homophobic policy that is being pursued in the country’. Others say the authorities are ‘accomplices’ in the murder, and Alekseyev suggested that the victim was only noted as gay by investigators to imply that he was ‘abnormal and therefore expendable’. A reported 59 protesters were detained in Moscow over the past week as part of attempts to revive the Occupy movement. Most of Russia’s high wage-earners live in sparsely populated hubs where natural resources are plentiful, says Forbes, concluding that this makes ‘a Moscow-led opposition’ unlikely. The dismissal of Vladislav Surkov suggests that President Vladimir Putin is becoming increasingly isolated in his own government, says Reuters.
TODAY: Temporary Surkov successor appointed; 8.5 million Russians celebrate Victory Day; Kerry urges Russia not to arm Syria; U.K. Prime Minister in Sochi to discuss Syria conflict; Russia to extend terms of Cyprus bailout; St. Petersburg media outlets hacked.
Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has appointed Sergei Prikhodo as a replacement First Deputy Chief of Staff for Vladislav Surkov, who was ousted from his post. After Vladimir Putin praised Russia’s soldiers as ‘the liberators of Europe’ at the Victory Day parade in Red Square yesterday, over 8.5 million Russians attended Victory Day celebrations across the country. (The Washington Post has some images.) The only reported detentions were of roughly 40 migrants, a result of document checks by police during festivities. Putin also touted Russia as a guardian of global security, and vowed that Russia would ‘do everything in our power’ to prevent any future outbreak of war.
TODAY: Kremlin’s ‘gray cardinal’ ousted; U.S. fears Russia’s weapons sales to Syria; Putin makes Victory Day Parade speech; human rights groups say Russia wants NGOs out; Titov calls for release of white-collar criminals; businessman arrested in journalist beating; Berezovsky buried.
Deputy Prime Minister Vladislav Surkov has been ousted from his post by President Vladimir Putin, reportedly at his own request, and in connection with his waning influence in the Kremlin. According to Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, the move is ‘of his own volition. It’s to do with the fact that decrees were not carried out,’ and the Kremlin as yet has no information on his future career plans. Surkov is the third official to leave the cabinet of Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev in a year, with analysts suggesting that it is only a matter of time before Medvedev will be ‘devoured‘ also. Surkov, often referred to by his nicknames, the ‘grey cardinal’, or ‘the puppet-master’, is considered to have held enormous influence in the Kremlin in the earlier days of his 13-year political career; the Moscow Times compiled five facts about him, including his former position as an employee of Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Garry Kasparov commented that Surkov’s dismissal indicates Putin is favoring ‘murderers’ over ‘thieves’. The United States is concerned that Russia may be planning to sell an air defence system to Syria. In his speech at a parade marking the 68th anniversary of victory in World War II, Putin touted Russia as a leader in ‘strengthen[ing] global security’.
TODAY: Russia and U.S. put differences aside to discuss Syria; agree on calling international conference on the problem state; Kerry meets rights activists; three more added to foreign agent list. Putin attacks cabinet performance; corruption looms over Russia’s economy; Alexander Lebedev granted London visit; prison break.
Following talks during which U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry asserted ‘significant common interests’ between Russia and the United States, the two sides have agreed to call an international conference aimed at ending the civil war in Syria. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov expressed contentment at the ‘wholehearted effort on the American side to develop our relations in economics, political dialogue and international cooperation’. Meanwhile ‘productive’ security talks were held between FBI Director Robert Mueller and Russian counterparts in Moscow. ‘Experts say the atmosphere is a bit more favorable for US-Russia detente today than a few months ago’. Kerry also met with leading Russian human rights activists, among them Helsinki Group chief Lyudmila Alekseyeva, to discuss the crackdown on rights movements. It has been reported that three more NGOs have been branded foreign agents: the Moscow School of Political Studies, the Urals human rights group and the Public Verdict human rights foundation. Read More