Last year I read about Vladislav Surkov, author and “Grey Cardinal” of the Kremlin. Since then I have followed him with interest, and so was not surprised to see him being maneuvered back into power by Medvedev:
Vladislav Surkov may be about to get a second act. And Aleksei Kudrin is standing offstage, biding his time and waiting to make his move.
Surkov and Kudrin are about as different as Russian officials can be. One thing they have in common, however, is that each played a key role in maintaining the authoritarian political system President Vladimir Putin established more than a decade ago.
The flamboyant Surkov’s stock-in-trade has long been the murky world of political subterfuge. As the architect and overseer of Russia’s simulated democracy, he deftly utilized diversion and intrigue to create enough of an illusion of pluralism to give the country’s ruling cabal the space to govern undisturbed.
The cerebral Kudrin, in contrast, specialized in sound economic management. As finance minister he led the green-eyeshade set of bean-counting economists who kept the country’s books balanced (albeit with an assist from high oil prices), even amid mind-bending corruption.
Another thing Surkov and Kudrin have in common is that they both came to the realization that Russia’s political system needed to evolve and reform — or risk stagnation and decay. And this caused each of them, to varying degrees and for different reasons, to either defect or be banished from the ruling circle.
Surkov realized that the simulated pluralism he painstakingly constructed needed to be expanded to give more of society — especially the emerging creative class — more of a voice. This meant bringing more parties into the State Duma, a proposition that put him in direct conflict with the ruling United Russia.
He also understood, correctly it turns out, that Putin returning to the presidency would be a risky move that would inflame the emerging middle class and divide the elite. Surkov reportedly favored Dmitry Medvedev remaining in the Kremlin, albeit with Putin remaining informally — yet firmly — in charge as “national leader.” This set him against the siloviki clan of security-service veterans surrounding Putin — and ultimately with Putin himself.
In the wake of the disputed State Duma elections in December, Surkov was unceremoniously tossed out of his job as the Kremlin’s deputy chief of staff and the regime’s chief ideologist. To add insult to injury he was replaced by his archrival, Vyacheslav Volodin, a staunch Putin loyalist.
Surkov, however, appears on the verge of a comeback of sorts. The daily “Kommersant” reported this week, citing unidentified officials, that he may be named chief of staff of Prime Minister Medvedev’s incoming government, where he will also hold the rank of deputy prime minister.