Putin 'sidelines' strategist after protests
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has sidelined the strategist who designed Russia's tightly-controlled politics, in a move seen Wednesday as a reaction to the outburst of protests challenging his rule.
President Dmitry Medvedev on Tuesday announced that Vladislav Surkov was leaving his job as first deputy Kremlin chief of staff and would take charge of economic modernisation as deputy prime minister.
The move came after the first mass protests since the 1990s over disputed December 4 parliamentary elections rattled the authorities as Putin plans to return to the presidency in 2012 polls after his four year stint as premier.
"Surkov has his vision of the development of events after the mass meetings and his opinion differs from that of Putin's circle," the Vedomosti daily quoted a source in the Kremlin administration as saying.
It said that Putin's circle was also unhappy that Surkov -- whose reputation for political manipulation had taken on an almost mystical allure in recent years -- had failed to prevent the protests breaking out.
"It seems that Surkov had got tired of his role -- whether it was as Faust or the Devil," wrote the opposition Novaya Gazeta newspaper.
It said there was no reason for optimism over Surkov's successor, former top ruling party official Vyacheslav Volodin, who it described sarcastically as "another fan of democracy".
"We could see the fact that Surkov was sidelined as a sign of change. But we need to be careful and say it is a sign of the possibility of change," said the Novaya Gazeta.
Liberal news website Gazeta.ru said that rather than marking a concession to the protest movement, Volodin's appointment would mark a "toughening" of Kremlin policy.
The pro-government Izvestia daily said that Surkov's differences with Putin dated back to the announcement in May of the creation of an All-Russian Popular Front (ONF) to rally support for Putin, in which Surkov was not involved.
Izvestia described Surkov and his successor as Kremlin first deputy chief of staff as "long time rivals" and noted Volodin had been one of the instigators of the ONF.
"The epoch of Vladislav Surkov is over. He will no longer be the all-powerful, almost mystical figure that he was for almost an entire decade," added the Moskovsky Komsolmolets daily.
Surkov surprised Russia's rulers by giving an interview shortly after the latest protest rallied tens of thousands at the weekend in which he said the demonstrators may be a minority but represented the "best part of society"
Putin had earlier Tuesday belittled the nascent Russian protest movement as lacking clear aims or leaders and rejected their demands for a review of the results of the parliamentary polls.
"They have no united programme, clear ways of reaching their aims -- which are themselves not clear -- or people who could achieve something concrete," he told a meeting of largely sycophantic representatives from the ONF.
The leaders of the protest movement have not yet said when the next demonstration will take place but they have indicated it will not be before the end of the New Year holidays in mid-January.
However huge anger has been sparked by the additional 10-day jail sentence handed to Sergei Udaltsov, an ultra-left wing activist who had already served a term in prison for taking part in a rally earlier this month.
Almost 1,900 people have vowed on Facebook to attend a rally on Thursday on Pushkin Square in Moscow "for the release and life of Udaltsov and all political prisoners" amid growing concerns over his health.
© 2011 AFP