Putin decorates shadowy Kremlin spin doctor

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Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has given a top state award to the shadowy Kremlin strategist seen as the architect of Russia's current political system, his spokesman said Thursday.

Vladislav Surkov, the deputy Kremlin chief of staff who notoriously coined the phrase "sovereign democracy" to describe Russia under Putin, was decorated with a medal to recognise his service, the Russian strongman's spokesman Dmitry Peskov told AFP.

Putin on September 21 signed a decree for the award, three days ahead of the weekend's announcement that he intends to stand for a historic third Kremlin term in March polls after his four-year stint as prime minister.

Surkov was given a silver-plated medal recognizing his "long-term productive state activity," said a terse statement posted on the government website.

The medal bears the name of Tsarist-era prime minister Pyotr Stolypin, a cautious reformer known for his intolerance of revolutionary attitudes whom Putin is known to admire.

"It was timed for his (Surkov's) birthday" on September 21, Peskov said.

Surkov entered the Kremlin during the rule of Russia's first president Boris Yeltsin and in a sign of his importance stayed put even when Putin moved to the office of prime minister and Dmitry Medvedev became president in 2008.

Frequently seen at the side of Medvedev in the last years, Surkov almost never speaks in public. He has an almost mystical reputation as a political schemer and is a figure of hate among liberals.

"This is in line with Putin's cynical practice of giving awards to scoundrels," former government minister turned fierce Putin critic Boris Nemtsov told AFP.

The decoration comes just days after Surkov became the target of an unusually frank attack by Russia's third richest man Mikhail Prokhorov, who called him a "puppeteer" who was stifling debate.

© 2011 AFP

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