Friday, November 28, 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 Gazeta.ru 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 Gazeta.ru, 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

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Comment Sorting
Comments
     
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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15:34 November 26, 2014

SIBERIAN AVIATION FOLLIES

So by now, we've all seen how passengers in Krasnoyarsk had to get out and push their flight out of the snow...

...and we've all seen the snarky Twitter memes this has inspired...

...but have you heard about onboard drunken onboard brawl that grounded a flight in Novosibirsk?

12:41 November 26, 2014

MIKHAIL ZYGAR OF DOZHD-TV HONORED

12:33 November 26, 2014

NO MISTRAL, NO FRENCH WINE!

Via The Moscow Times:

A lawmaker on the State Duma's Defense Committee has proposed banning the import of French wines in response to Paris' decision to suspend delivery of the first of two helicopter carriers to Russia.

"Let's ban the sale of French wine in Russia," Deputy Vladimir Bessonov told Russian News Service radio on Tuesday. "Even talking about this can bring about desired results," he said, without specifying what these would be.

France, under pressure from its Western allies to cancel a 1.2 billion euro contract ($1.58 billion) with Russia for Mistral-class warships, said earlier Tuesday that it was suspending delivery of the first of two carriers because of Russia's meddling in eastern Ukraine.

MEANWHILE, IN UKRAINE...

12:21 November 26, 2014
12:20 November 26, 2014

BAD NEWS AT SBERBANK

12:18 November 26, 2014

MORNING NEWS ROUNDUP

From RFE/RL's News Desk:

INDEPENDENT JOURNALIST ESCAPES RUSSIA, SEEKS ASYLUM IN U.S.

By RFE/RL's Russian Service

The editor-in-chief of an independent Russian news website says he will seek political asylum in the United States.

Oleg Potapenko told RFE/RL on November 26 that he has arrived in the United States despite efforts by Russian authorities to prevent him from leaving the country.

Potapenko is editor of Amurburg.ru, a news site in the Far Eastern city of Khabarovsk that has reported about the presence of Russian troops in eastern Ukraine.

On November 12, the openly gay Potapenko and his partner were prevented from boarding a flight from Khabarovsk to Hong Kong after border guards said a page was missing from Potapenko's passport.

Potapenko says the page was cut out by a police officer who requested his passport for a check earlier that day.

He told RFE/RL that he had managed to leave Russia from another city, Vladivostok, on November 16.

MERKEL SAYS RUSSIA TRAMPLING ON INTERNATIONAL LAW

German Chancellor Angela Merkel says Russia's actions in Ukraine are a violation of international law and a threat to peace in Europe.

Speaking bluntly in an address to Germany's parliament on November 26, Merkel said, "Nothing justifies the direct or indirect participation of Russia in the fighting in Donetsk and Luhansk."

She told the Bundestag that Russia's actions have "called the peaceful order in Europe into question and are a violation of international law."

But she suggested there was no swift solution, saying, "Our efforts to overcome this crisis will require patience and staying power."

Germany has become increasingly frustrated over Moscow's refusal to heed Western calls to stop supporting pro-Russian separatists who have seized control of large parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk provinces in eastern Ukraine.

Close ties between Russia and Germany have been strained by the Ukraine crisis.

(Based on reporting by Reuters)

UKRAINE SAYS MORE RUSSIAN MILITARY IN EAST

Ukraine has leveled fresh charges that Russia is sending military support to pro-Russian separatists in the east.

A foreign ministry spokesman said five columns of heavy equipment were spotted crossing into Ukrainian territory on November 24.

Evhen Perebyinis told journalists on November 25 that a total of 85 vehicles had been detected in the five columns that entered at the Izvaryne border crossing point from Russia.

"The Russian side is continuing to provide the terrorist organizations of the Donetsk and Luhansk people's republics with heavy armaments," said Perebynisis.

Separately, the Ukrainian military said one soldier had been killed and five others wounded in the past 24 hours as a shaky cease-fire declared on September 5 continued to come under pressure.

The six-month conflict in the east of Ukraine has left more than 4,300 people dead, according to the United Nations.

(Based on reporting by AFP and Reuters)

RUSSIA SAYS IT WON'T ANNEX ABKHAZIA, SOUTH OSSETIA

By RFE/RL

Russia has rejected accusations that it is planning to annex Georgia’s breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin told RFE/RL’s Current Time program on November 25: “There can be no question about any annexations.”

Georgia and the West have criticized a "strategic partnership" agreement between Russia and Abkhazia signed on November 24.

Tbilisi condemned the pact as an attempt by Moscow to annex the region.

Karasin also said Russia will “continue sparing no effort, nerves, financial expenses” to make sure its neighbors “do not feel endangered.”

"As a large state and a powerful country, Russia is constantly responsible for stability on its borders and everything that is under way along its borders," he added.

Under the "strategic partnership," Russian and Abkhaz forces in the territory will turn into a joint force led by a Russian commander.

 

19:16 November 21, 2014

POWER VERTICAL PODCAST: A YEAR OF LIVING DANGEROUSLY

On this week's Power Vertical Podcast, we use the one-year anniversary of the Euromaidan uprising to look at how it changed both Ukraine and Russia. My guests are Sean Guillory and Alexander Motyl.

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About This Blog

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