Architect of Putin’s political system steps down


Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday announced the resignation of his influential deputy prime minister, Vladislav Surkov, credited with designing the country’s notorious political system.

The Kremlin said in a statement that Surkov had left his post voluntarily, but analysts and observers said he might have been forced out amid a growing rift between Putin’s Kremlin and the government.

Putin issued a decree “to free Surkov of his duties as deputy prime minister and head of the government apparatus according to his own wish.” Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev’s spokeswoman, Natalia Timakova, said Surkov tendered his resignation April 26.

His departure comes amid what observers describe as signs of growing infighting among Kremlin elites during Putin’s controversial third term and an ongoing probe into a high-tech fund backed by Surkov.

Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said Surkov’s departure should not be seen as related to the investigation at the Skolkovo fund, arguing that the deputy prime minister quit over the government’s poor implementation of Putin’s election promises.

“It is related to the priority topic and the high-priority task of implementing presidential decrees,” Peskov told the Kommersant FM radio.

State Channel One linked his resignation to criticism from Putin saying Surkov had admitted 50 presidential decrees “were carried out in an unsatisfactory way.”

Surkov declined to talk about his future plans with the media.

Surkov, 48, was appointed deputy prime minister late in December 2011 after being dismissed from the post of first deputy Kremlin chief of staff in a shakeup in the wake of huge opposition protests that shook Russia.

As deputy prime minister, he was sidelined, experts said.

He had “absolutely no influence” over the Kremlin’s policies and was ill-suited for his administrative job in the Cabinet after a career as a political manager, said political consultant Yevgeny Minchenko.

He had worked in the Kremlin administration from 1999 and was considered the top ideologue of Putin’s domestic political strategy, overseeing political parties in Parliament, electoral campaigns and the tightly controlled media.

Known for coining the term “sovereign democracy” to describe Russia’s tightly controlled political system, Surkov was once called the “Kremlin puppeteer” by billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov.

For the past year and a half, Surkov had been tasked with modernizing the Russian economy, but investigators are probing a showcase project, the Skolkovo high-tech fund, where Surkov sits on the supervisory board.

Last month, the powerful Investigative Committee, Russia’s equivalent of the FBI in the United States, accused one of the fund’s senior executives of paying $750,000 to an opposition lawmaker. Surkov publicly defended the fund.