Friday, October 24, 2014

The Power Vertical

The End Of The Surkov Era: The System Eats Its Architect

President Dmitry Medvedev (left) listens to Vladislav Surkov.
President Dmitry Medvedev (left) listens to Vladislav Surkov.
Formally, Vladislav Surkov's departure as deputy Kremlin chief of staff to become deputy prime minister is a lateral move. In reality, it marks the end of an era.
This is because in addition to leaving the Kremlin for the White House, Surkov is also changing his brief -- from the regime's ideologist in charge of the political system to the official overseeing modernization.
Surkov was the architect of Vladimir Putin's "power vertical." He was stage director of Russia's simulated and tightly controlled multiparty system. He coined the term "sovereign democracy" and put it into practice.
And now he's moving on. "Stabilization devours its children," he said wryly in remarks to Interfax. “I am too odious for this brave new world.”
Before I get into what I think this all means, some credit where credit is due.
While I was preparing a post last week on Surkov's interview with "Izvestia" -- in which he said those protesting against the government deserve respect and that the authorities should "respond benevolently" to them -- I became engaged in a brief and collegial debate on Twitter with the ever-astute Kevin Rothrock over at A Good Treaty.
Kevin saw signs that Surkov was on his way out. I disagreed. Just for the record, he was right and I was wrong. I didn't see this coming and dismissed the chatter in the Russian press suggesting that it was imminent. I have always considered Surkov central to the Putin system and couldn't imagine anybody else as its choreographer.
Now that choreographer will be Vyacheslav Volodin, a longtime Putin loyalist (who was chief of staff of his government) who will take over Surkov's formal title at the Kremlin as well as his political portfolio.
So what does it all mean? 
In remarks to "Kommersant-FM," former Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin suggested it was a step in the direction of reform -- a “serious bid to renew the political system” that both Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev agreed to:
This means that political reform is continuing and we are seeing a new and very important aspect of it. Surkov has been in the Kremlin for a very long time and was the man who directed all of the Kremlin's political technologies. I consider him one of the designers of the system. Now the system is being reconsidered. Other organizers are needed, with other views on the political system.
Kudrin's benevolent view, as informed as it is, is not universally shared. 
Despite the fact that Surkov is reviled by many in the protest movement as the architect of fixed elections and a simulated democracy, he has been making conciliatory noises since the December 4 elections. 
He has urged dialogue with the demonstrators and sought ways to channel the urban middle class discontent into the political system. Prior to the elections, he had been pushing for an expansion of the managed pluralism in the State Duma by bringing in more parties.
But as "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported today, he was badly outmaneuvered by Volodin, who emerged as his bitter rival in the elite and who orchestrated the creation of Putin's National Front:
Remember that in the summer Volodin essentially challenged Surkov when he initiated the creation of the All-Russian Popular Front for Vladimir Putin. There were a lot of questions about the Popular Front. But now, after the December elections made it clear that United Russia has lost its popularity in society, the Popular Front is the only real political technology and political base for Putin's presidential campaign.
Citing unidentified officials, reported today that Surkov's replacement by Volodin means that the Kremlin is planning to play hardball with the protest movement.
Likewise, speaking to RFE/RL's Russian Service, political analyst Dmitry Oreshkin noted that while Surkov prefers to utilize subterfuge, diversion, and intrigue as political tools, Volodin's methods are more direct.
"Volodin just runs over anyone between him and his goal," he said. "The authorities are moving away from Surkov's methods of organizing elections. Now, whoever is opposed to them will get smacked in the head. This is a clear sign that the authorities are moving toward more stringent methods."
We'll have to wait and see whether Kudrin's optimistic assessment or Oreshkin's darker scenario will prove correct. But Russia is showing no signs of quieting down for the traditional holiday break.
-- Brian Whitmore

Tags: Vladislav Surkov,VYacheslav Volodin

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: La Russophobe from: USA
December 28, 2011 20:58
You know Brian, once burned, twice shy. One would think that if you were wrong about Surkov leaving, you might be little less sure of yourself in claiming that he IS leaving. I mean, did it ever occur to you that this transfer might simply be way of trying to pacify the protesters with an empty gesture, leaving Surkov doing all the things he always did but now behind closed doors rather than openly, while telling the protesters they've been listened to?

by: Catherine Fitzpatrick from: New York
December 28, 2011 21:32
Yes, Volodin can do the same kind of choreography and managed democracy -- and worse. And the TV coverage of the demonstrations, miraculously, overnight, is just such an example of managed democracy.

But, Surkov isn't really on his way out, he's been made deputy prime minister, after all. That is, yes, his face has to be retired from the scene strategically for a time but when you're grey cardinal, it doesn't matter what your technical title is. It may also be useful to appear to be gracefully exiting and reflecting on the managed revolution eating its managers, not its children.

The signs that Surkov was on his way out may have been strategically placed by the Kremlin as part of a complex narrative we're not seeing all of -- to make it appear so. I'm not so sure you're wrong, in other words.

A man who managed to rise to the pinnacle of power after his boss Mikhail Khodorkovsky went to jail isn't somebody who is going to be "spending more time with his family." After all, his first position in government was with Yeltsin as deputy chief of staff of the president in 1999 -- before the Putin machine.

Just think: how many times has Gleb Pavlovsky come and gone from the Kremlin?

by: Frank
December 30, 2011 03:32
One senses that for whatever his skills, Surkov has detractors within United Russia. Hence, the current political situation makes him a target. Have periodically come across off record comments about how at times, Surkov comes across as a bit of a control freak - who gets involved in things that are arguably better left to some others.

On the matter of utilizing personnel, United Russia would be wise to critically review how the likes of Pavlovsky and Markov have performed in "spin doctor" situations.

by: La Russophobe from: USA
December 30, 2011 10:43
Russians are already rejecting the crazy strategy adopted by Navalny, demanding a rerun of Duma elections so (even) more seats can be given to crazy nationalists and Communists.

Meanwhile, Navalny has STILL not said he will run for the presidency or support any specific opposition candidate for the office, nor has he embraced any reasonable opposition party. His movement is ENTIRELY limited to a tiny fraction of Moscow's population, with a limited social stratum, and it has no understandable platform. His recent claim to produce 2 million on the streets of Moscow is as disturbing as his latent racism. If this is the best Russia can do in seeking to prevent Putin from becoming president for life, there is no hope for the country.
In Response

by: Frank
December 30, 2011 12:31
As stated by you, the termed "latest racism" is hypocritical in its irony.
In Response

by: La Russophobe from: USA
January 02, 2012 12:00
You're right, it is ironic. Because anyone who has read our blog knows that while we have, for more than five years, tirelessly crusaded for race justice in Russia, being one of the strongest voices in the world on that topic ( Russia's own activists are lily-white, predominantly male, and permeated throughout with racist sentiments, most particularly Navalny (who has virtually no support at all as a candidate -- Your attempt to throw mud at us by suggesting that because we harshly criticize the malignant Russian masses who continue to support Putin (his support is markedly rising the more active Navalny becomes) we are somehow "racist" is typical pro-Kremlin propaganda, exactly the same kind that was issued in Soviet times. It's ignorant, illiterate, and ridiculous, especially coming from somebody who does not even have his own blog.
In Response

by: Frank
January 03, 2012 05:36
Yout toilet of as blog has (in the collective sense) stated numerous instances of negative comments along the lines of: Russians are...

Were that stated against some other groups, YOU would more likely be called a bigot by a good number of hypocrites in media, academia and body politic.

Such is the ethically imperfect situation that's simultaneously evident and downplayed.
In Response

by: Frank
January 03, 2012 18:04
That's: your toilet of a blog.

The simultaneous mantra about "Russian racism" (real and not so real), silence on anti-Rusisan racism, while encouraging the latter is an otherwise noticeable reality that gets hushed up in certain circles.

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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)







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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