Surkov: secretive architect of Putin's political system

27th December 2011, Comments 0 comments

Vladislav Surkov, appointed Tuesday as deputy prime minister, was often described as the Russia's most powerful man after strongman Vladimir Putin and outgoing President Dmitry Medvedev.

As first deputy head of the Kremlin administration, he was credited with designing a political system that has seen Putin dominate Russia for over a decade, transforming parliament into a rubber stamp.

The secretive, media-shy strategist oversaw political parties in parliament and electoral campaigns that invariably handed victory to the Kremlin.

He spearheaded the campaign for December 4 parliamentary polls which the opposition says were marked by record violations and brought tens of thousands on to the streets in the biggest show of public anger since the early 1990s.

"He was the author of the political theatre which existed in Russia over the past years," said Olga Kryshtanovskaya, a member of Putin's United Russia ruling party who studies elites.

In a sign of his importance Surkov stayed put even when Putin moved to the office of prime minister and Medvedev became president in 2008.

Ahead of Putin's planned come back to the Kremlin next year, Surkov was briefly appointed acting Kremlin chief of staff. The permanent job however went to Putin's long-time ally and fellow Saint Petersburger Sergei Ivanov.

Born in the central Russian village of Solntsevo to a Chechen father and a Russian mother, Surkov's rise to power was meteoric.

The 47-year-old kick-started his career in the early nineties working for Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the one-time owner of Yukos oil firm, now Russia's most high-profile prisoner. He entered the Kremlin during the rule of Russia's first president, Boris Yeltsin, in 1999.

A figure of hate among liberals, he once said Putin was sent to Russia by God and likened political reform to "dangerous leap-frogging."

To counter the threat of so-called "colour revolutions" which brought to power pro-Western regimes in ex-Soviet Ukraine and Georgia, Surkov masterminded the creation of pro-Kremlin youth groups which routinely harrass Western diplomats and the opposition.

For the observers who praise and criticise him -- often in the same breath -- Surkov is the Kremlin's chief "political designer," a Machiavellian schemer and a chameleon.

People who know Surkov closely describe him as a bookish cynic with a creative approach to politics.

A novella published in 2009, "Close to Zero", is widely believed to have been written by Surkov.

He has never publicly acknowledged being the author, but it is written under the pen name Natan Dubovitsky, similar to the name of his second wife, Natalia Dubovitskaya.

The novel's hero, publisher Yegor Samokhodov, says that politics is no more malicious than life itself, "a family, a monastery, a brigade of asphalters, a ministry and parliament."

Widely known for his sophisticated literary tastes, Surkov also dabbled in song-writing and penned lyrics for Russian gothic rock band Agatha Christie.

© 2011 AFP

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