In a major shake-up at the Kremlin, Russian President Vladimir Putin has transferred his chief of staff and one of his closest allies to a far less influential position.
The Kremlin's press office on August 12 issued Putin's order to "relieve Sergei Ivanov of his duties" -- a decision that came, according to the president, in accordance with a previous arrangement.
Ivanov is a former KGB officer who has served under Putin as a defense minister and deputy prime minister. Putin said Ivanov himself requested the move because he had been too long in his position as head of the presidential administration. Ivanov will retain his seat on the presidential Security Council.
Shortly after the statement, Russian state TV aired footage of a meeting between Putin, Ivanov, and the new chief of staff, Anton Vaino.
"I'm happy with how you handle tasks in your line of work," Putin said to Ivanov, who had been the president's chief of staff since December 2011. "I remember well our agreement that you had asked me not to keep you as chief of the presidential administration for more than four years, and that is why I understand your desire to choose another line of work."
The move comes as Russia continues to deal with an economic crisis and about a month before nationwide parliamentary elections. It also follows a reshuffle of regional leaders in July.
In 2008, Ivanov was considered a likely successor to Putin, when the Russian president could not run for three consecutive terms. Instead, Putin picked Dmitry Medvedev to run for president.
In a move viewed as symbolic, Putin on August 12 appointed Ivanov to be a special envoy for transportation and the environment, a lowly posting for a man once considered one of the most influential people in Russia.
In televised remarks, the 63-year-old Ivanov thanked Putin for his "high assessment of my work during the past 17 years," apparently accepting that his political career is essentially over.
Ivanov, a reputed hawk who served as defense minister from 2001 to 2007, was appointed as Kremlin chief just months before Putin's election to his third presidential term in 2012.
Ivanov is the latest former Putin ally to be pushed aside.
In the past year, the chief of the Russian Railways, Vladimir Yakunin; antinarcotics tsar Viktor Ivanov; and security service chief Yevgeny Murov have all lost their jobs.
Nevertheless, news of the reshuffle came as a surprise to many in Moscow.
Political analyst Mikhail Troitskiy suggested to the German dpa news agency that the dismissal could be due to health issues, Putin's determination to "demote the 'old guard'" and recruit younger professionals, or both.
Ivanov's successor, Vaino, is not a well-known public figure in Russia.
However, political analyst Valery Solovey told RFE/RL's Russian Service that Vaino's eventual appointment had been expected by Russia's political elite as far back as April.
Solovey described Vaino as an "absolute favorite" of Putin.
"[Putin] completely trusts him. He's proved himself to be a very qualified administrator, and a very good manager," Solovey explained.
Social-media users on August 12 posted several photos of Vaino at past Kremlin events, including one where he -- as chief of protocol at the time -- carried an umbrella for the president.
The 44-year-old used to work in the Russian Embassy in Japan and had been working as a deputy to Ivanov in the Kremlin administration since 2012.
Vaino's grandfather, Karl Vaino, headed the Communist Party in Soviet-ruled Estonia between 1978 and 1988.
He will now take up a powerful post that involves drafting laws for the president to submit to parliament, monitoring the enforcement of those laws, and conducting analyses of domestic and foreign affairs for the president.
Putin reshuffled several top regional officials in July in a move experts suggested was calculated to boost the Kremlin's chances ahead of parliamentary elections in September.
Russia is set to hold its next presidential election in 2018. Putin is widely expected to run for a fourth term.
With reporting by RFE/RL's Current Time television, AP, AFP, Reuters, and dpa