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Putin Proposes Presidential Office Insider Volodin As New Duma Speaker

  • Merhat Sharipzhan

Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) with Vyacheslav Volodin (file photo)

Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) with Vyacheslav Volodin (file photo)

Russian President Vladimir Putin has proposed his deputy chief of staff, Vyacheslav Volodin, to be chairman of the new State Duma, a move that would further tighten Putin's control over the political arena after a massive election win for the ruling United Russia party.

Meeting in Moscow on September 23 with leaders of United Russia and the three other parties that won Duma seats in the September 18 elections, Putin touted Volodin's qualifications.

Putin suggested Volodin's "experience and skills" would help him "build up the work in the lower chamber of the parliament, if, of course, lawmakers make the corresponding decision [to nominate and elect him speaker]."

The leaders of the parties -- United Russia, the Communist Party, Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR), and A Just Russia -- expressed their support for Volodin at the meeting.

The decision to tap Volodin is part of a broad reshuffle of Russia's ruling elite ahead of a presidential election due in March 2018, in which Putin is eligible to seek a new six-year term.

Volodin, 52, who maintains a low profile and has a reputation as a blunt, effective political operator, was secretary-general of United Russia and a lawmaker from 1999 to 2011.

He served as a deputy prime minister from October 2010 to December 2011, during Putin's stint as prime minister between his second and third presidential terms.

He is seen as a key figure behind what Kremlin critics say has been a tightening clampdown on dissent since Putin returned to the Kremlin for a third term in 2012 and is widely believed to have championed the appointment of social conservatives who have been handed important posts over the past year, including the controversial new education minister.

Volodin's move to the Duma would leave an opening in his current post, whose occupant is responsible for overseeing domestic politics and other internal Russian affairs. Putin did not say who would replace him.

Putin's proposal followed a number of personnel changes in the Kremlin and within top security agencies, many in the last few days.

On September 22, Putin named the speaker of the outgoing Duma, his longtime associate Sergei Naryshkin, to head the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR).

During a televised meeting with Naryshkin and the SVR's previous chief, Mikhail Fradkov, Putin said that the authorities must "promptly head off threats to Russia that arise -- not let them grow but, on the contrary, act in a way that ensures they don't arise; to neutralize these threats at an early stage."

The days after the Duma vote, the authoritative newspaper Kommersant reported that Russia is planning to fold the SVR and other agencies including the Federal Security Service (FSB) into a powerful new Ministry of State Security (MGB), prompting comparisons to the Soviet KGB.

The postelection moves come in the wake of a number of changes in recent months.

In April, Putin established a new National Guard, led by his former bodyguard and longtime ally Viktor Zolotov.

In August, Putin dismissed his chief of staff, Sergei Ivanov, a former KGB officer and defense minister who at one point was seen as a top contender to succeed Putin.

The reshuffling of key security and law-enforcement agencies, the moving up of Duma elections originally slated for December, and an election outcome that has handed the ruling party a constitutional majority has fueled suggestions among Russia observers that ground is being laid for an early presidential election.

Observers suggest that moving up the vote, currently scheduled for March 2018, could allow Putin to circumvent growing public discontent over persistent economic problems.

Russia’s economy has been hit hard by the fall of world oil prices and sanctions imposed by the West over Russia's seizure of the Crimean Peninsula and involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine, as well as countermeasures put in place by Moscow.

With reporting by TASS and Interfax