According to a report in "Vedomosti" on Wednesday, Deputy Kremlin Chief of Staff Vladislav Surkov, the ruling elite's informal ideologist, personally made the decision to sever ties with Pavlovsky, the head of the Foundation for Effective Politics, a Moscow-based think tank that advised the Kremlin in an unofficial capacity for more than a decade. Pavlovsky's open support for President Dmitry Medvedev's reelection in 2012, the officials say, was the reason for the decision.
"Vedomosti" also quoted Yuri Shuvalov, Assistant Secretary of the Presidium of United
Russia's General Council, as saying that Pavlovsky's recent criticism of the ruling party also played a role.
Mikhail Vinogradov, a political analyst told the daily that positioning oneself on "one side of the fence" between Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Medvedev "is risky at this point."
Pavlovsky has been a fixture in the cloistered universe of Russia's elite political strategists since the mid-1990s. After establishing the Foundation for Effective Politics in 1995, he worked on Boris Yeltsin's 1996 reelection campaign and has been a key player with close Kremlin ties ever since.
He was a key strategist for Putin's 2000 and 2004 presidential campaigns, as well as Medvedev's in 2008. He was also the driving force behind an Internet media empire that includes "Russky zhurnal," Lenta.ru, Kreml.org, and the Public Opinion Foundation polling organization.
Since the news broke, Pavlovsky has been making the media rounds giving his side of the story.
In interviews with RFE/RL's Russian Service, Gazeta.ru, and "Nezavisimaya gazeta," Pavlovsky stressed that he was not fired and the decision for him to leave the Kremlin administration was mutual.
Here he is, speaking to "Nezavisimaya gazeta":
In various interviews, Pavlovsky strongly implied that the tandem and key members of the elite were very close to deciding that Medvedev would stand for reelection.
But as he told Gazeta.ru, many in the elite -- including Putin himself -- are getting cold feet:
There is no split [in the tandem] and rumors about this are inappropriate. But the issue of the candidate for 2012 is being delayed and prolonged, which is painful for both parties. I think that, of course, that first and foremost, this debate is painful for Putin. Not easy for him to step aside. Also, he rightly fears that there could be instability in the bureaucracy after the nomination of a candidate.
Pavlovsky added that "The tandem will remain a political alliance, but its design will change," implying that if Medvedev stays for a second term Putin will not going be anywhere and will continue to play a large role in Russian politics.
In his interview with Gazeta.ru, Pavlovsky also insisted that his relationship with Surkov -- who has also been a Kremlin fixture since the 1990s -- was on solid footing, despite reports that it was the regime's chief ideologist who showed him the door:
Speaking to Vladimir Kara-Murza of RFE/RL's Russian Service, Pavlovsky said that with March 2012 approaching rapidly, it was high time the elite got over its jitters (you can listen to the whole broadcast in Russian here):
On the eve of such an important election, I think we need to be consolidated. And the question arises: around whom it easier to consolidate? Because in any case, the next president will need to deal with conflicting goals. He will simultaneously need to modernize the economy, strengthen the country's relationship with the world and with the global market, and to introduce a legal regime. At the same time, he will need to reassure social groups, calm down the population and provide guarantees to the elites and key groups in the ruling class, which have increased in recent years and who fear they will lose out in this process.
Pavlovsky is the third official to suffer for expressing public support for one member of the tandem over the other. Konstantin Zatulin was replaced as Senior Assistant Chairman of the State Duma's Committee for CIS Affairs and Aleksei Chadayev was removed from United Russia's Central Executive Committee. Both criticized Medvedev over his failure to oppose the international military campaign in Libya.
At this point, I have more questions than answers about what all this means. Can we take Pavlovsky at his word? Or, despite his protestations to the contrary, did he lose a power struggle with Surkov (who has long been seen as a close Putin ally)? Can we surmise anything about 2012 from this incident?
I have long thought that Plan A was for Medvedev to serve a second term as president while Putin remained on the scene as the real power behind the throne. And I must admit that this assessment was in no small part (although not exclusively) influenced by Pavlovsky's public stance on the issue.
There will no doubt be many more twists and turns before this is all finally decided. Medvedev has scheduled a press conference for May 18, an event that will no doubt be scrutinized closely for any fresh signals.
Meanwhile, as Pavlovsky was departing the Kremlin this week, Putin baffled journalists in Stockholm with a typically cryptic response when asked about 2012. “You will like the decision, you will be pleased,” he said.
-- Brian Whitmore