Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Power Vertical

A Comeback For The Gray Cardinal?

President Dmitry Medvedev (right) with Vladislav Surkov in October, two months before Surkov's resignation as first deputy Kremlin chief of staff.
President Dmitry Medvedev (right) with Vladislav Surkov in October, two months before Surkov's resignation as first deputy Kremlin chief of staff.
Since falling out with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin last year and getting pushed out of his job as deputy Kremlin chief of staff in December, Vladislav Surkov has been languishing in political purgatory. Is he now on his way back?

Once the maestro of Russia's managed democracy and the regime's unofficial ideologist, Surkov was reviled by the opposition for his alleged role in falsifying the December 4 State Duma election results -- and derided by Team Putin for not fixing the vote effectively enough.
And this made him the perfect scapegoat. When mass demonstrations against the regime broke out, Surkov was unceremoniously thrown under the bus and replaced in the Kremlin by his archrival, Vyacheslav Volodin.
Surkov has since been relegated to a low-profile and unglamorous deputy prime minister's post, ostensibly in charge of innovation, education, and culture. But according to a report in on March 15, President Dmitry Medvedev wants to make him his chief of staff when he assumes the premiership after Putin returns to the Kremlin in May.
According to an unidentified Kremlin official cited by, Surkov "laid low for about a month and a half after his resignation from the Kremlin, but has since begun to recruit people and make plans."
The official adds, however, that Putin is not exactly onboard with the idea:
Medvedev personally lobbied for the appointment of Surkov as his chief of staff. He wants a real government and he needs Surkov in this post. Putin, by contrast, wants to leave [current government chief of staff Anton] Vaino in place, keep the chief of staff post as purely technical, and not have it merged with a deputy prime minister's portfolio. Putin does not want to let anybody in the new government, including the prime minister, gain too much political influence.
The disagreement over Surkov's future is part of a larger struggle over whether Medvedev's future government will be little more than a weak appendage of Putin's Kremlin or a force for modernization and reform. And that battle is closely connected to the broader -- and perennial -- conflict between the technocratic and "siloviki" wings of the elite over Russia's direction.

As I blogged earlier in the week, the technocrats are angling to have Medvedev's modernization agenda actually implemented, while the siloviki want to preserve state capitalism, prevent the privatization of the energy industry, and turn the clock back to 2007.
Despite being the architect of Putin's authoritarian system of managed democracy, Surkov showed signs of aligning himself with the technocrats in the latter part of his tenure in the Kremlin. He reportedly favored Medvedev serving a second term as president and was pushing plans to (carefully and tentatively) open up the political system.
Surkov also has a vested interest in the success of the modernization agenda, according to some analysts.

"Surkov is credited with the idea of making innovation one of the main themes of Dmitry Medvedev's presidency," journalist Andrei Veselov wrote in the weekly 'Ekspert" in January. "Now he needs to prove in practice that it was not just a PR trick but something with real substance."
Surkov's future is one barometer of where things may be going, but not the only one.
Medvedev is trying to get a number of his closest allies into top government posts, including two of his key economic advisers, Arkady Dvorkovich and Igor Yurgens. He has also long been seeking to get his old law-school classmate, current Justice Minister Aleksandr Konovalov, appointed prosecutor-general to replace Yury Chaika -- an unlikely development that would mark a major victory for the lame-duck president.

Another indicator will be whether current Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin, the informal leader of the siloviki clan and Medvedev's main nemesis, remains in the government or follows Putin to the Kremlin.

The smart money, of course, is on Putin winning most -- if not all -- of these battles. Medvedev is a diminished figure and he never had the bureaucratic muscle to truly push his own agenda (and it is not entirely clear that he ever really wanted to).
But this is also about much more than Putin and Medvedev. A good chunk of the elite, and about half of society, wants political and economic reform. And influential figures outside of government -- like former Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin and billionaire oligarch Mikhail Prokhorov -- plan to push hard for it.
(In this sense, Kudrin's eventual role could prove crucial, and will be the subject of a post in the near future. A close personal friend of Putin's, he could influence the president-elect. His personal animosity toward Medvedev, however, will make it difficult, if not impossible, to work with the future premier.)

With society divided and the elite fractured, it will nevertheless be very difficult for Putin to govern in 2012 as if it were still 2007, regardless of how the battle over the staffing of the government turns out.
-- Brian Whitmore

NOTE: This post has been updated with minor tweaks throughout

Tags: Vladimir Putin,Vladislav Surkov,Dmitry Medvedev

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Jack from: US
March 16, 2012 21:30
Brian writes intriguing articles. However the things which seem like James Bond's plot, are in reality a banality. Most of conspiracy-type developments are well explained by incompetence and stupidity combined with corruption or personal and tribal agendas. As I pointed out on multiple occasions, Russian political machine is trying hard to reproduce the US-style one-party system where the populace is presented with carefully per-selected list of "candidates", where "elections" are staged sham shows, and most people are fed and entertained well enough to believe that they have a "democracy". In reality US has just one party - US government, a ruling mafia which stages "elections", picks and chooses who will be the next Obama-style talking head as president. This is a dream setup for Russian political elite. The problem for them is, Russia did not degrade yet all the way into Orwellian society. Russian people can express themselves freely without being afraid of being labeled racist, anti-Semite, or similar. And Russian people do not need to lower their voice when speaking about politics and their government, like "free" Americans do.
In Response

by: Anonymous from: USA
March 17, 2012 01:25
Ah, the truth comes out! So Jack, you harbor views that MOST other rational people would consider racist, anti-Semite, bigoted, etc. but you don't like being labelled such is that correct? So naturally, you consider Russians more "free" than Americans because they can be racist or anti-Semite without any repercussions or accountability. Interesting, and yet you still consider yourself an American? Jack, when was the last time you read the US Constitution? The rights of Jews, Muslims, Catholics or any other religion are enshrined in its meaning. On the other hand, your last sentence is entirely wrong. Russians have always had to lower their voices when speaking about politics to the point that many will not even do it. Over the years, Russians have developed "dual personalities" where they express themselves differently in public than they really feel just to avoid some sort of persecution by authorities. "Kitchen talk" is where people fearing persecution express their true feelings--inside the privacy of their own homes. BTW, freedom of speech is also enshrined in the US Constitution and whatever views you express are protected. Not the case in Russia...

by: John from: Australia
March 17, 2012 03:03
Thanks for the humourous article! It helps keep the mystique around Russia when we see these stories of fiction. It's funny how western writers with no knowledge of Russian society can produce such articles.
It is actually possible to travel to Russia and to read in English the work of Surkov. Nothing really mysterious about any of it at all. I like the bit about a split society. Sure the silent majority, mostly content with their lot and what the masses call the mink coat minority!! How do I know this? I have family in Russia who we communicate with most days.

by: Catherine Fitzpatrick from: New York
March 18, 2012 01:32
We tried to tell you that Surkov wasn't going anywhere -- you wouldn't listen. PS he was put in charge of *religion* as well -- think of the damage he can do.

So no surprise here, and Pavlovsky will be back before you know it, too.

by: La Russophobe from: USA
March 18, 2012 13:00
This article reminds one of how utterly wrong the breathless reporting about "change in Russia" really was. When Surkov departed, we were hip-deep in frothing predictions of Putin's imminent demise and the waking of a whole new political class in Russia. Now, we have watched the protest movement go from 100,000 at a demonstration to 10,000 to just 500 and we have seen that the only person who matters in Putin's Russia is Putin.

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17:49 October 24, 2014


From RFE/RL's News Desk:


Russian President Vladimir Putin has accused the United States of escalating conflicts around the world by imposing what he called a "unilateral diktat."

Putin made the remarks in a combative speech to political experts at the Valdai International Discussion Club, in Russia's Black Sea resort of Sochi.

Putin said the United States has been "fighting against the results of its own policy" in Iraq, Libya and Syria.

He said risks of serious conflicts involving major countries have risen, as well as risks of arms treaties being violated.

He also dismissed international sanctions over Russia's actions in Ukraine as a "mistake," saying they aimed at pushing Russia into isolation and would end up "hurting everyone."

We did not start this," he added, referring to rising tensions between Russia and the West.

(Based on reporting by Reuters, AP, Interfax, TASS)


German Chancellor Angela Merkel has urged Russian President Vladimir Putin in a telephone call to push for a quick resolution of the ongoing gas dispute with Ukraine as winter looms.

The call by Merkel to Putin on October 24 comes as representatives of the EU, Russia, and Ukraine are due to meet again next week in EU brokered talks aimed at solving the gas dispute between Kyiv and Moscow.

Merkel also underlined that upcoming elections in areas of eastern Ukraine controlled by Russian-backed separatists must respect Ukrainian national law.

Pro-Russian insurgent leaders are boycotting a parliamentary snap poll on October 26 in Ukraine and are holding their own election in the Lugansk and Donetsk regions, home to nearly three million people, on the same day instead.

(Based on reporting by AFP and Reuters)



The United Nations says the conflict in Ukraine has forced more than 800,000 people from their homes.

Around 95 percent of displaced people come from eastern Ukraine, where government troops have been battling pro-Russian separatists.

UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, told a briefing in Geneva that an estimated 430,000 people were currently displaced within Ukraine -- 170,000 more than at the start of September.

It said at least 387,000 other people have asked for refugee status, temporary asylum, or other forms of residency permits in Russia.

Another 6,600 have applied for asylum in the European Union and 581 in Belarus.

The agency said it was "racing to help some of the most vulnerable displaced people" as winter approaches.

It also said the number of displaced people is expected to rise further due to ongoing fighting in eastern Ukraine.


Three alleged militants have been killed by security forces in Russia's volatile North Caucasus region.

Russia's National Antiterrorism Committee says that two suspects were killed in the village of Charoda in Daghestan on October 24 after they refused to leave an apartment and opened fire at police and security troops.

One police officer was wounded.

Also on October 24, police in another North Caucasus region, Kabardino-Balkaria, killed a suspected militant after he refused to identify himself, threw a grenade towards police, and opened fire with a pistol.

A police officer was wounded in that incident.

Violence is common in Russia's North Caucasus region, which includes the restive republics of Daghestan, Kabardino-Balkaria, Ingushetia, and Chechnya.

Islamic militants and criminal groups routinely target Russian military personnel and local officials.

(Based on reporting by Interfax and TASS)


A lawyer, who represented an alleged victim of the notorious Orekhovo criminal group in Moscow, has been assassinated.

Police in the Russian capital say that Vitaly Moiseyev and his wife were found dead with gunshot wounds in a car near Moscow on October 24.

Moiseyev was representing Sergei Zhurba, an alleged victim of the Orekhovo gang and a key witness in a case against one of the gang's leaders Dmitry Belkin.

Belkin was sentenced to life in prison on October 23 for multiple murders and extortion.

Last month, another of Zhurba's lawyers, Tatyana Akimtseva (eds: a woman), was shot dead by unknown individuals.

The Orekhovo group was one of the most powerful crime gangs of the Moscow region and in Russia in the 1990s. Its members are believed to be responsible for dozens of murders.

(Based on reporting by TASS and Interfax)

17:27 October 24, 2014


17:26 October 24, 2014


17:00 October 24, 2014
08:29 October 24, 2014


From RFE/RL's News Desk:


Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk is warning that Russia could attempt to disrupt Ukraine's parliamentary elections scheduled for October 26.

Yatsenyuk told a meeting of top security officials and election monitors on October 23 that "It is absolutely clear that attempts to destabilize the situation will continue and will be provoked by Russia."

Yatsenyuk said "we are in a state of Russian aggression and we have before us one more challenge -- to hold parliamentary elections."

The prime minister said Ukraine needs the "full mobilization of the entire law-enforcement system to prevent violations of the election process and attempts at terrorist acts during the elections."

Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said authorities have ordered some 82,000 policemen on duty for election day.

He said 4,000 members of a special reaction force would be among those maintaining order during polling hours and would be concentrated in "those precincts where there is a risk of some terrorist acts or aggressive actions by some...candidates."

The warning by Yatsenyuk comes on the heels of three violent attacks on parliamentary candidates in the past week.

The latest, against Volodymyr Borysenko, a member of Yatsenyuk's People's Front Party, occurred on October 20 when Borysenko was shot at and had an explosive thrown at him.

He allegedly survived the attack only because he was wearing body armor due to numerous death threats he had recently received.

Elections to the Verkhovna Rada, the parliament, will be held despite continued fighting in the eastern part of the country between Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russian separatists.

Voting will not take place in 14 districts of eastern Ukraine currently under the control of the separatists.

Those separatist-held areas -- in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions -- are planning on holding their own elections in November.

Additionally, Russia's illegal annexation of Crimea in March means the loss of 12 seats from the 450-seat parliament.

Polls show President Petro Poroshenko's party leading with some 30 percent of respondents saying they would cast their vote for the Petro Poroshenko Bloc.

It that percentage holds on election day it would mean Poroshenko's bloc would have to form a coalition government, likely with nationalist groups who oppose conducting peace talks over fighting in the east.

(Based on reporting by Reuters and Interfax)



Moscow has denied claims of an incursion by a Russian military plane into Estonia's airspace.

A Russian Defense Ministry spokesman told Interfax news agency on October 23 that the Ilyushin-20 took off from Khrabrovo airfield in the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad on October 21.

The spokesman said the reconnaissance plane flew "over neutral waters of the Baltic Sea" while on a training flight.

On October 22, Estonia’s Foreign Ministry summoned the Russian ambassador in Tallinn, Yury Merzlakov, after the Estonian military said the Russian plane had entered its air space.

In a statement, NATO said the Ilyushin-20 was first intercepted by Danish jets when it approached Denmark, before flying toward non-NATO member Sweden.

Intercepted by Swedish planes, the alliance said the Ilyushin entered Estonian airspace for “less than one minute” and was escorted out by Portuguese jets.

NATO has stepped up its Baltic air patrols and Moscow has been accused of several recent border violations in the region amid heightened tensions between Russia and the West over the Ukraine conflict.

Last month, Estonia accused Russia of abducting one of its police officers on the border.

Russia claims Eston Kohver was seized inside Russia on September 5, while Estonian officials say he was captured at gunpoint in Estonia near the border and taken to Russia.

The European Union and United States have called for the immediate release of the Estonian security official, who is facing espionage charges in Russia.

Meanwhile, the Swedish Navy has been searching for a suspected submarine sighted six days ago some 50 kilometers from the capital, Stockholm, although it said on October 22 it was pulling back some of its ships.

Swedish officials have not linked any particular country to the suspected intrusion and Moscow has denied involvement.

(With reporting by Interfax, TASS, and the BBC)


A Moscow court postponed to next week a ruling on a move to take control of Bashneft, an oil company from tycoon Vladimir Yevtushenkov.

The judge said on October 23 that the next hearing will take place on October 30 after the prosecution requested more time to prepare its case.

Prosecutors filed the suit in September to regain state ownership of Bashneft, citing alleged violations in the privatization and subsequent sale of the company to AFK Sistema investment group.

Yevtushenkov, the main shareholder of the conglomerate, is under house arrest on suspicion of money laundering during the firm's acquisition in 2009.

Yevtushenkov, 66, was arrested on September 16.

He is ranked Russia's 15th richest man by U.S. magazine Forbes, with an estimated fortune of $9 billion.

(Based on reporting by Reuters and TASS)

11:11 October 23, 2014


According to a report in the pro-Kremlin daily "Izvestia," deputy Kremlin chief of staff Vyacheslav Volodin told a meeting of the Valdai Discussion Club in Sochi that Western politicians "do not understand the essence of Russia."

"Volodin stated the key thesis about the current state of our country: As long as there is Putin there is Russia. If there is no Putin, there is no Russia," Konstantin Kostin, head of the Foundation for the Development of Civil Society, told "Izvestia."

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The Power Vertical is a blog written especially for Russia wonks and obsessive Kremlin watchers by Brian Whitmore. It covers emerging and developing trends in Russian politics, shining a spotlight on the high-stakes power struggles, machinations, and clashing interests that shape Kremlin policy today. Check out The Power Vertical Facebook page or