'Puppet-master' Putin advisor is shown the Kremlin door
Vladislav Surkov was once one of the president's most influential and deft advisers. His forced resignation suggests the Kremlin may be pursuing blunter ways of manipulating the political landscape.
Vladislav Surkov, the former theater arts major who took on the job of stage-managing Russian democracy on behalf of Vladimir Putin, was abruptly shown the Kremlin door Wednesday. Most analysts see the move as a sign that an increasingly heavy-handed Mr. Putin has no further use for Mr. Surkov's elaborate and relatively gentle methods of manipulating the political landscape.Skip to next paragraph
Fred Weir has been the Monitor's Moscow correspondent, covering Russia and the former Soviet Union, since 1998.
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Surkov, an influential Putin advisor who helped sculpt Russia's so-called "sovereign democracy" system, told the Moscow daily Kommersant that he had tendered his resignation on April 26, but will only discuss the reasons for his departure "when it is appropriate."
Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, suggested to the Kommersant FM radio station that he had been pushed out the door due to poor job performance.
"[His resignation] is related to the high-priority task of implementing presidential decrees," Mr. Peskov said.
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Often referred to as the "grey cardinal" of the Kremlin, Surkov's star had been falling since a massive protest movement hit Moscow streets in December 2011. It had been triggered by the near-universal allegations of electoral fraud committed by Surkov's own brainchild – the pro-Kremlin United Russia party – in parliamentary polls.
He was subsequently eased out of his role as Putin's deputy chief of staff and given the thankless-by-definition job of deputy prime minister in charge of modernizing Russia's economy.
"His resignation testifies to the fact that there is a real political crisis in the country. Different bureaucratic structures are at war with each other, and Russia is becoming increasingly ungovernable," says Boris Kagarlitsky, director of the independent Institute of Globalization and Social Movement Studies in Moscow.
"Surkov had his own vision. He tried to control the process, to reconcile different structures, and he lost," he adds.
Surkov had been a Kremlin fixture since Putin's first presidential term and is widely regarded as the chief architect of the Putin-era system of "sovereign democracy," whose basic idea is that the political system headed by Putin is the direct outgrowth of Russia's own history and public dynamics – not an import from anywhere else – and is therefore democracy.
Critics, and even many independent analysts, quickly substituted the more descriptive term "managed democracy." The phrase evoked the Kremlin's aggressive role in landscaping Russia's political garden – weeding out pesky opposition parties and independent politicians, concentrating official resources and state media attention behind the ruling United Russia party, and generally altering rules of the game to favor pro-Kremlin outcomes.
In addition to fathering United Russia, Surkov created a bouquet of pro-Kremlin public organizations, such as the youth movement Nashi and a state-supported assembly of tame civil society groups called the Public Chamber.