Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has chosen Mikhail Fedotov of Russia's Union of Journalists to head the Kremlin's human rights committee. The embattled previous head resigned in July.
Members of the presidential committee on civil society and human rights said they were surprised by Medvedev's choice. Fedotov, already a council member, was also tapped to be Medvedev's adviser on human rights, boosting his status above that of his predecessor Ella Pamfilova. She founded the council last decade and headed it until her resignation in July, believed to be prompted by battles with members of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's United Russia Party and the pro-Kremlin youth group Nashi.
Many human rights activists welcomed Fedotov's appointment.
Yuri Dzhibladze, a member of the presidential rights committee, told RFE/RL's Russian Service that Fedotov's appointment was a "good sign."
"It's probably an ideal compromise," Dzhibladze said. "He's accepted by members of civil society and the authorities and is able to find diplomatic solutions to difficult problems."
A lawyer by training, Fedotov was press minister in the early 1990s before becoming a secretary in the Union of Journalists. He also served as Russia's representative to UNESCO and helped found the liberal Union of Right Forces Party. In 2004, he joined the Free Choice Committee headed by opposition leader Garry Kasparov, which criticized then-President Vladimir Putin.
Fedotov told the Interfax news agency his priorities would be to oppose the growing popularity of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, as well as judicial and police reform and children's rights.
Another council member, Valentin Gefter of the Institute of Human Rights, told RFE/RL's Russian Service he agreed that Fedotov is a consensus-builder.
"He may seem to have been suspiciously close to the government in his previous position," Gefter said, "but on the other hand he may be able to avoid mistakes that people like I would probably make if I were to have been made director, something that was discussed."
But not everyone agrees. Another council member, Kirill Kabanov of the National Anticorruption Committee, told RFE/RL's Russian Service the choice of Fedotov may be meant to make the committee more pliable.
"Fedotov isn't just a rights activist, he's also a former bureaucrat of the first order, with all the attributes," Kabanov said. "I don’t understand whether his appointment is a promotion for the council or something else."
Fedotov's predecessor, Pamfilova, refused to give reasons for her resignation, but she had criticized aspects of Russia's growing authoritarianism, including the government's failure to protect human rights activists who became victims of harassment and murder.
RFE/RL's Russian Service contributed to this report