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“Grey cardinal” Vladislav Surkov makes return to Russian politics

September 23, 2013, 15:01 UTC+3 Zamyatina Tamara

MOSCOW, September 23 (Itar-Tass) - Russian President Vladimir Putin has appointed renowned retired official Vladislav Surkov as his aide. Until 2011, Surkov was first deputy head of the Kremlin administration, and until May 2013 he was deputy prime minister and head of the Russian government staff. For almost five months he had been out of work, now and then giving interviews and saying he “had been happy to work with a great man,” Vladimir Putin.

Putin has a lot of aides, but it was Surkov’s return to the Kremlin that generated lots of buzz in the Russian establishment and press, as he was also referred to as “the grey cardinal” of domestic politics. Billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, who was ousted by rivals from the leadership of the liberal Right Cause Party in 2011, dubbed Surkov as “the main puppeteer of political process”.

In his new job, he will deal with issues of social and economic development of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. These two Caucasus republics, part of Georgia until 2008, were recognised by Russia, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Nauru and Tuvalu as independent states after a Russian-Georgian conflict.

Surkov is the author of the “sovereign democracy” concept, under which Russia independently, without any influence from outside, determines the timeframe, stages, terms and forms of development of its political system. Surkov is one of the founders of the Nashi (Ours) public movement, set up in 2005 to mobilise youth into supporting the government. His other merit is supervision of the Skolkovo Foundation project (2010), a territorially isolated innovation hub. He is member of the Supervisory Board of the Skolkovo Foundation, a pet project of Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.

Sharp rebuke by the Speaker of the Russian Investigative Committee after Surkov’s attempt to protect Skolkovo against a criminal case in connection with the embezzlement of state funds in May 2013 came as a first signal of Surkov’s possible dismissal. Soon after that, Vladimir Putin clobbered the government for failing to implement presidential decrees. Surkov publicly argued against the head of state, and on the following day, on May 8, he quit his post with the wording “at his own request”.

At that time, experts expected he would engage in creative activity, as he wrote books, poetry and music at leisure. But they were mistaken. On September 21, Surkov turned 49, and on the same date a decree on his appointment as president’s aide was issued. It came as if the second birth of politician Surkov.

According to the director of the Political Technologies Centre, Igor Bunin, “Vladimir Putin has decided that it would be better to keep Surkov at hand than to leave him a wide discretion”. In an interview with Itar-Tass, the expert said. “So far, a minimal post at the Kremlin has been offered to Surkov. But his predecessor in that position, Tatyana Golikova, became on September 20 head of the Russian Audit Chamber”.

“So the president decided to reserve this position for Surkov to ‘grow into’. He will not be allowed to deal with domestic politics at this point, this is the domain of the head of the Kremlin administration, Vyacheslav Volodin,” Bunin said.

Professor at the High School of Economics Mikhail Berger told Tass that “the appointment of Surkov as the president’s aide means that the Kremlin is looking for new ideas. Vladimir Putin sacked Surkov being irritated by the failure to implement presidential decrees. “Now the head of state has other causes for concern. In the Moscow mayoral election in September, opposition figurehead Aleksey Navalny all of a sudden came second. Opposition figurehead Yevgeny Roizman won the mayoral election in Yekaterinburg. Under these realities, the president needs new approaches in building relations with the liberal camp,” the professor explained.

The expert believes that “even if not immediately, Surkov will engage in domestic policy issues, he is quite young for a politician, and he has a big time margin”.

The head of the Niccolo M Political Consulting Centre, Igor Mintusov, told Tass that “Vladislav Surkov certainly has been and remains in the political team of the president”.