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Spinning the Kremlin

The Wall Street Journal today published one of the more thorough articles about the Kremlin’s one-man ideological engine, Vladislav Surkov. Later this week, we will blog a series of posts on the Ideology of Russian Energy Imperialism. surkov2.gif Propagandist by day, death metal by night Some excerpts from the WSJ piece:

Putin’s Pitchman Inside Kremlin as It Tightens Its Grip: Ex-Aide to Tycoons Domestic Adviser Surkov Hails Concentration of Power As ‘Sovereign Democracy’ ‘There’ll Be No Uprisings Here’ By GREGORY L. WHITE and ALAN CULLISON MOSCOW — In 1987, 23-year-old Vladislav Surkov dropped out of drama school and helped invent a new business for the crumbling Soviet Union: advertising. Central planners saw little need to pitch products. But Mr. Surkov was working for one of the country’s newly legalized private banks, Menatep. He got its primitive logo splashed on prime-time television news and the sides of buses. The campaign was so successful it set off rumors the Communist Party was stashing its secret riches at Menatep. By the time the U.S.S.R. collapsed a few years later, Menatep was a household word. Today, Mr. Surkov is selling a different product: the iron-fisted rule of Vladimir Putin. As the Russian president’s domestic-policy chief and a deputy chief of staff, Mr. Surkov is the architect of an ideology the Kremlin is using to justify its reassertion of control over the state and the economy. Mr. Surkov calls this “sovereign democracy,” with the emphasis, he has said, on “sovereign.” He has penned manifestoes defending the Kremlin’s muzzling of critics, monopolization of politics and crackdown on politically ambitious billionaires. He has helped set up pro-Putin youth groups that push the Kremlin’s agenda in Russia and abroad. He denounces Mr. Putin’s remaining opponents as Western stooges or neo-Nazis, and accuses Western nations of plotting to steal Russia’s oil and minerals. “When they talk to us about democracy, they’re thinking about our hydrocarbon resources,” he told a rare briefing for foreign reporters in June. … In parliament, Mr. Surkov maintained iron discipline. That summer, he summoned some freshman legislators to his office and berated them for “behaving like they were elected representatives,” says one of the group, Anatoly Yermolin. “Just vote like you’re told,” Mr. Surkov said, according to Mr. Yermolin. Those considering disobedience “should have a good look at what’s happening to Yukos,” the Khodorkovsky-led oil company whose officers were being arrested. Mr. Yermolin, who had worked for Yukos affiliates, later complained about the tone of the meeting in a letter to prosecutors. “It was like a Mafia sit-down,” he says. Mr. Yermolin was kicked out of the pro-Kremlin party within days, but still has a seat in parliament. … At his June briefing for foreign reporters, Mr. Surkov said the West should understand that because of its unusual past, Russia has to build democracy its own way, from the top down. “The bottom-up model is an ideal which we should all strive to achieve,” he said. “But real life is more complicated.”