A last audience for Vladimir Putin's 'grey cardinal' as the architect of Kremlin policy, Vladislav Surkov, quits

The man behind Russia’s tightly controlled political system, has resigned – but did he jump or was he pushed?

Moscow

He was a colossus in his field, renowned for his skilful manipulation of his rivals and the media, as well as for being a tenacious survivor and a tactical genius. No, not Sir Alex Ferguson, but Vladislav Surkov, the Kremlin insider who also resigned today.

For more than a decade, Mr Surkov was perhaps the single most influential ideologue in Russia. He coined the concept of “sovereign democracy” championed by the President, Vladimir Putin, and was regarded as the architect of the tightly controlled political system that has dominated Putin’s Russia. He was referred to as the “grey cardinal of Russian politics”; a puppet-master and manipulator extraordinaire who was one of the most powerful people in the country.

Mr Surkov, 48, was moved from his shadowy role in the presidential administration to the post of Deputy Prime Minister in December 2011, and since then has been responsible for modernisation and innovation in the Russian economy. Now he has departed the political scene entirely, possibly falling victim to a vicious behind-the-scenes battle inside the Russian elite.

Usually, the Kremlin’s battles are conducted in the utmost secrecy, but in recent days Mr Surkov had traded public barbs with the spokesman for the powerful Investigative Committee, Vladimir Markin. The committee, seen as the preserve of a hawkish hardline faction within Russian politics, was investigating Skolkovo, the “Russian silicon valley” project Mr Surkov oversaw.

Mr Surkov, who bears a passing resemblance to Rowan Atkinson, was no ordinary grey Russian technocrat. Although he almost never gave interviews to the media, the occasional glimpses that the outside world was given into his life hinted at an unusually eccentric character for someone in his position.

He wrote rock songs, is widely believed to have written a nihilistic novel under a pseudonym, and also penned occasional columns for a Russian magazine on topics ranging from the art of Joan Miró to his appreciation of Bollywood films. He kept portraits of Tupac Shakur and Che Guevara, among others, in his Kremlin office.

Described by a source who used to work in the presidential administration as a “power guy, not a money guy”, Mr Surkov has always given the impression of a man who enjoys being in control of political processes, rather than who is in the Kremlin to benefit from the access to shady illicit funds that such posts reportedly offer. Half Chechen and with a penchant for wearing slim black ties, Mr Surkov is famously ruthless, and began his career working for oligarchs in the 1990s, including the now-jailed Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

During his years in the presidential administration, Mr Surkov was known for his personal control over much of what was shown on state-controlled television, and for his oversight of the “managed democracy” that became a hallmark of Mr Putin’s political system. He would arrange for the creation of “loyal opposition” parties to give the semblance of competition, and then disband them if they became too genuinely popular. When Mikhail Prokhorov, at one point Russia’s richest man, set up a political party in the run-up to the 2011 parliamentary elections, he did so with the support of Mr Surkov, but then became angry about the level of control the Kremlin official wanted to have over his new party.

“There is a puppet-master in this country who long ago privatised the political system and has for a long time misinformed the leadership of the country,” said the oligarch at a hastily convened press conference. “His name is Vladislav Yurevich Surkov.” At the time, Mr Prokhorov said he would demand a meeting with Mr Putin and the then-President, Dmitry Medvedev, and insist that Mr Surkov was sacked.

Mr Prokhorov lost that battle, but Mr Surkov was indeed sidelined a few months later, moved from the Kremlin to the Deputy Prime Minister’s job. Some put this down to a more hawkish mood in the Kremlin ahead of Mr Putin’s return to the top job. The President has  replaced Mr Surkov’s nuanced understanding of moderate authoritarianism with a more hard-nosed and direct approach, since it was threatened by massed street protests that began in December 2011, shortly before Mr Putin’s re-election. “I am too odious a person for this Brave New World,” said Mr Surkov at the time, with a characteristically ironic, nebulous flourish.

Mr Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said that Mr Surkov resigned of his own volition, because of the government’s inability to fulfil a number of recent presidential decrees. Many analysts, however, speculated that he was pushed out and suggested that the Prime Minister and Mr Putin’s former protégé, Dmitry Medvedev, could also soon be shown the door as Mr Putin tries to balance different interest groups within the government.

Mr Surkov refused to elaborate on the reasons for his resignation, saying he would do so later, “when it is appropriate to do so”. He told Russian media that his future plans included writing “a political comedy based on real events”.

Kremlin yes-men: Putin’s inner circle

Igor Sechin

Believed to be a former intelligence operative, Mr Sechin is as secretive as Mr Surkov and rarely gives interviews. Like Mr Surkov, he was a deputy chief of the presidential administration and was later moved to Deputy Prime Minister, roles that concealed the real size of his power. He is widely believed to be the head of a hardline faction within the Russian government.

Dmitry Medvedev

Like many in the Russian elite, Mr Medvedev has known Mr Putin since the 1990s in Petersburg, when Mr Putin worked for the then-mayor, Anatoly Sobchak. But Mr Medvedev lacks the KGB background of most of the inner circle. Mr Putin made him President from 2008 to 2012 and he is now Prime Minister. Despite this, he is seen as a weak figure politically and many expect Mr Putin to sack him soon.

Alexei Kudrin

Russia’s long-standing finance minister was sacked in 2011, but remains close to Mr Putin. Fiscally conservative but socially relatively liberal, Mr Kudrin is a rare progressive voice in the ear of Mr Putin, and has spoken out against the crackdown on opposition forces.

Vyacheslav Volodin

The man who replaced Mr Surkov as deputy head of the presidential administration is a ruthless ladder-climber and hard worker. Many say he has brought a tough edge to Mr Putin’s third term in the Kremlin, stifling dissent and launching a crackdown on foreign-funded NGOs.

Shaun Walker

News
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.
peopleFormer Newsnight presenter is being touted for a brand new role
News
Michael Buerk in the I'm A Celebrity jungle 2014
people
Voices
File: David Cameron offers a toast during a State Dinner in his honour March 14, 2012
voicesAnd nobody from Ukip said babies born to migrants should be classed as migrants, says Nigel Farage
Arts and Entertainment
Avatar grossed $2.8bn at the box office after its release in 2009
filmJames Cameron is excited
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
News
The Magna Carta
archaeologyContemporary account of historic signing discovered
Arts and Entertainment
Stik on the crane as he completed the mural
art
Arts and Entertainment
Phyllis Dorothy James on stage during a reading of her book 'Death Comes to Pemberley' last year
peopleJohn Walsh pays tribute to PD James, who died today
Sport
Benjamin Stambouli celebrates his goal for Tottenham last night
FOOTBALL
Life and Style
Dishing it out: the head chef in ‘Ratatouille’
food + drinkShould UK restaurants follow suit?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: HVAC Project Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The successful candidate will b...

Recruitment Genius: Key Accounts Administrator - Fixed Term

£13500 - £14500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting new opportunity has...

h2 Recruit Ltd: Business Development Manager - Business Services-£70,000 OTE

£35000 - £45000 per annum + OTE £70,000 + car + pension: h2 Recruit Ltd: A wel...

Recruitment Genius: Service Receptionist / Warranty Administrator

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Due to expansion the Largest Independent Motor...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game