IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Russia reassigns top Putin political aide

The Kremlin announces a new role for Vladislav Y. Surkov, the "gray cardinal" who has overseen Russia's domestic political scene for more than a decade.
Image: Political strategist, Vladislav Surkov
Kremlin's top political strategist Vladislav Surkov is shown at a recent meeting.Natalia Kolesnikova / AFP - Getty Images
/ Source: The New York Times

The Kremlin on Tuesday announced the reassignment of Vladislav Y. Surkov, the "gray cardinal" who has overseen Russia's domestic political scene for more than a decade. The reassignment, made in the midst of a new protest movement against Vladimir V. Putin, Russia's paramount leader, suggested that Mr. Putin is prepared to make changes in the tightly controlled system that emerged during his first and second presidential terms.

Mr. Surkov, the deputy head of the president's administration, is considered the architect of the system under Mr. Putin and his protégé and successor as president, Dmitri A. Medvedev, which Mr. Surkov christened "sovereign democracy." He will now oversee modernization and innovation as a deputy prime minister, but will take no role in domestic politics. Russia's political system has come under unprecedented pressure this month from protesters who complain that elections offer them no alternative to Mr. Putin's rigid model. Former finance minister Aleksei L. Kudrin, who this month presented himself as a potential leader for disgruntled liberals, said the move affecting Mr. Surkov suggests "political reforms are going to continue."

"I consider him one of the designers of the system," Mr. Kudrin said in an interview with Kommersant-FM. "Now, the system is being reconsidered. Other organizers are needed, with other views on the political system."

Mr. Surkov, an advertising prodigy who was brought into government toward the end of the Yeltsin era, has argued for years that centralizing power in the Kremlin was a matter of survival after the 1990s. He acknowledged last year that "centralization has reached the limits of its capacity," but attempts to cultivate new parties were often discontinued if they showed signs of slipping out of Kremlin control.

Asked by a journalist on Tuesday why he was leaving, Mr. Surkov responded: "Stabilization devours its young." He went on to say that he had requested a reassignment. Asked whether he would take a role in settling down the protests, Mr. Surkov said no.

"I am too odious for this brave new world," he said, in a short interview with the Interfax news service. He then summed up his achievements at the reporter's request.

"I was among the people who helped President Yeltsin realize a peaceful transfer of power," he said. "I was among those who helped President Putin stabilize the political system. I was among those who helped President Medvedev liberalize it."

"I hope I did not undermine my employers and my colleagues," he said. "Democracy was preserved, renovated and by the acts of Dec. 22," when Mr. Medvedev proposed a swathe of substantive political changes," it was translated to a working state. I hope it will successfully make it through the trials ahead. It was good work. There were, of course, enough mistakes, but let's talk about that another time."

In September, the billionaire Mikhail D. Prokhorov called a press conference where he called for Mr. Surkov's ouster and described him as "a puppet master who long ago privatized the political system, who has long misinformed the Russian leadership about what is going on in the political system, puts pressure on the media, and tries to manipulate citizens' opinions."

Mr. Putin on Tuesday offered a softer assessment of the protest movement which began after Dec. 4 parliamentary elections tainted by ballot-stuffing and other violations. He seemed to have thought better of belittling the demonstrators, as he did earlier when he said their white ribbons resembled limp condoms, though he said they lacked leaders, organization or a clear agenda.

"There always are, always were and always will be forces which are not geared toward development, but instead Brownian motion," he said, using a term from physics that describes the random movement of microscopic particles. "Such people exist, and they always will exist. Let them fly their flag, they have the right to exist, and in fact I consider that we should treat them with respect."

He also suggested initiating a dialogue with dissatisfied voters on the Internet — an unusual step coming from Mr. Putin, who last year described the Internet as 50 percent "pornographic material." Earlier this month, Mr. Putin said he does not use the Internet because he is too busy.

This article, "Architect of Putin's System of Politics Is Reassigned," originally appeared in The New York Times.