Kremlin top strategist named deputy PM
President Dmitry Medvedev on Tuesday named the Kremlin official credited with designing Russia's tightly-controlled political system as deputy prime minister in charge of a modernisation drive.
The appointment of Vladislav Surkov, until now Kremlin first deputy chief of staff, comes as Russia's rulers scramble to reassert their authority amid a wave of protests against the conduct of parliamentary elections.
"I have signed the decree on making you deputy prime minister of the Russian Federation," Medvedev told Surkov in a meeting broadcast on state television, saying he would be responsible for the project of modernising the economy.
"This is a great honour," said Surkov, who has an almost mystical profile and is rarely seen speaking in public.
"We all know that the modernisation of the economy is your strategic priority and we talked a lot about this. This is very interesting work. Thank you for your trust," he added.
Surkov is credited with coining the phrase "sovereign democracy" to describe Russia's political system in the period after the fall of the USSR, which has seen an increase of federal power and an erosion of civil liberties.
After an aborted attempt to head a pro-business political party earlier this year, Russian tycoon Mikhail Prokhorov lambasted Surkov as a "puppet master" and vowed to get him sacked.
Surkov first entered the Kremlin during the rule of Russia's first president, Boris Yeltsin, in 1999 and then worked under Vladimir Putin for two terms and then his successor Medvedev.
In an interview with the Interfax news agency after his appointment, Surkov for the first time officially acknowledged the extent of his role in politics going back to the resignation of Yeltsin on New Year's Eve in 1999.
"I was one of those who helped Yeltsin realise the peaceful handover of power (to Putin)," he said.
"I was one of those who helped Putin stabilise the political system as president. And one of those who helped president Medvedev liberalise it."
Surkov became a hate figure for liberals in the last years who blamed him for leading a clampdown on dissent. But he countered that "democracy had been preserved in Russia" and strengthened by Medvedev's cautious reform.
© 2011 AFP