‘Russia wonks’, as RFE/RL’s Brian Whitmore likes to call them, have been pondering for some time the political future of Vladislav Surkov. Formerly a top strategist and one of Putin’s inner sanctum, credited as the gifted political technologist behind the iron-clad ‘power vertical’, he was famously referred to by Mikhail Prokhorov as the Kremlin’s ‘puppet master.’
Having seemingly been unassailable in his role within the Kremlin, back in December of last year Surkov was abruptly ousted from his position, and his operational agility replaced by the far more heavy-handed calculus of Vyacheslav Volodin, whose attempts to retain strategy have been markedly less smoothe. Now it seems, Surkov is back, with a new role, that of religious affairs chief.
In recent months,we have seen the Orthodox Church gain an unabashed amount of political clout, becoming increasingly interwoven with state apparatus in what is nominally a secular state. A recent article by RFE/RL, which can be read here, highlighted somewhat unseemly links between the church and the state’s terrorising security services. The entirety of the Pussy Riot case also exemplifies this trend. Placing Surkov at the heart of religious affairs would seem to indicate both that this trend is unlikely to halt, and perhaps, that if the expertise of a masterly strategist is needed, the image of the Orthodox Church is really starting to lose its sheen.