The Deputy Prime Minister of Russia, Vladislav Surkov — also known by his nickname, the “grey cardinal” — has formally stepped down today, the Moscow Times reports.
However, many observers believe the wording of the Kremlin’s announcement makes it clear that Surkov was fired by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
A statement from the Kremlin is particularly revealing: “In accordance with paragraph D of Article 83 of the Russian Constitution, Vladislav Yurivich Surkov has been released from the office of deputy prime minister at his own request.”
Paragraph D of Article 83 allows the Russian President to “president the right to hire and fire deputy prime ministers on the recommendation of the prime minister”, the Moscow Times reports.
If you don’t follow Russian politics, chances are you’ve never heard of Surkov, but his reputation within the Russian elite is enormous — as Reuters put it in 2011, “Surkov’s system was Putin’s system.”
A profile of Surkov that appeared in the London Review of Books in 2011 went further, calling him “Putin’s Rasputin” referring to him as “the real genius of the Putin era” and the Kremlin’s “puppet-master.”
Peter Pomerantsev’s article describes a man full of contradictions — former theatre kid who “wore velvet trousers, had long hair like Pink Floyd, wrote poetry, was a hit with the girls,” who eventually stumbles into a PR job with now-imprisoned billionaire Mikhail Khodorkovsky (who evidently doesn’t trust him) and goes on to work at the Kremlin.
Pomerantsev notes with glee at the beginning of the article that on Surkov’s desk there sits “a picture of Tupac on his desk, next to the picture of Putin.”
Despite his reputation as a master PR operator, it appears Surkov has finally fallen foul of Putin.
It may well relate to an ongoing feud between Surkov and Russian Prime Minister Dimitry Medvedev over an embezzlement investigation from the country’s Investigative Committee into the Medvedev-backed Skolkovo development — Russia’s billion dollar attempt to create a home-grown silicon valley.
Whatever the reasoning behind Surkov’s sudden ousting, many fear the worst.
“Surkov leaving is more confirmation that in choice between murderers and thieves, Putin is going with the murderers,” Russian chess champion and opposition figure Garry Kasparov tweeted today. “No subtlety needed now.”
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