‘Gray Cardinal' Is Russia’s Real No. 2

Friday, 10 Feb 2012 06:15 PM

By Lev Navrozov

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The Russian press reported early in January of 2012 that Vladislav Surkov, a deputy prime minister in the Russian government, will be responsible for the modernization of education, science, and healthcare as well as for the development of the global navigation system (GLONASS).

surkov.jpg
Vladislav Surkov is rumored to be Russia's second in command.
(Getty Images)
Surkov responded that he was honored by the decision. “Mr. President, thank you very much. First, I must say that for me it is a great honor, because everyone knows that economic modernization and the creation of innovation infrastructure are your strategic priority . . . I look forward to new experiences and I hope that I will not fail you and the Prime Minister, and most importantly, the people involved in economic development: scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs — all talented people . . . ”

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin summarized the new area of responsibility for the former first deputy head of the presidential administration during a meeting: “You were in charge of not only domestic policies but also modernization, so we are going to continue in this direction . . . I also ask you to take up some high-tech issues as GLONASS, and to give priority to the modernization of education, science and healthcare,” he said.

The move came after the first mass protests since the 1990s following the country’s disputed Dec. 4 parliamentary elections. The elections rattled authorities as Putin prepares to return to the presidency in 2012 after a four-year stint as premier.

Of interest is the Moscow report of Feb. 2, 2012 from the Associated Press which quoted former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev as saying that “Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has exhausted himself as Russia’s leader and his inability to change the Kremlin political system might prompt more massive protests.”

The report goes on to say that “Putin is almost certain to win the upcoming election in March [of 2012] despite recent opposition street rallies, Russia’s largest since the Soviet collapse.”

“Gorbachev said Thursday that if Putin does not change the system he built, ‘everything will end up on city squares.’”

Moreover: “Gorbachev recently called on the Kremlin to annul the results of the December parliamentary election that triggered the rallies.”

An ominous figure, Surkov, 47, is often ranked as Russia’s third-most-powerful politician, after President Dmitri Medvedev, and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. However, insiders say that his influence over the whole apparatus of Kremlin power is far greater than that of the “figurehead president” Medvedev. According to them, he is the “real number two,” and his influence is set to grow, rather than diminish, with Putin’s inevitable re-election.

Surkov is known as the Kremlin’s main propagandist and ideologist as well as the mastermind behind the concept of “managed democracy” and an organizer of Putin’s pro-Kremlin youth squads — Nashi (meaning ours, as opposed to “vashi,” theirs). It is sometimes said that, with the cynicism of a young Stalin, Surkov plays on both teams — “ours” as well as “theirs.”

In Moscow, Surkov is referred to as the “gray cardinal,” a behind-the-scenes manipulator who inspires fascination and fear. For more than a decade, he has helped shape the ideological message of Russia’s leaders, its governing party, United Russia, of parties in opposition to United Russia, its youth movements, and virtually anything widely published or broadcast in the country.

The Russian billionaire Mikhail D. Prokhorov called for Surkov’s ouster, condemning him as a “puppet master” who prevented the growth of real democracy. It is not surprising that Prokhorov’s attack was edited out of the Moscow evening news and seemed to vanish. Now, with two electoral campaigns under way, Surkov is as essential to the Kremlin as he has ever been.

Surkov’s job is to oversee the relationship of the executive branch with Russia’s Parliament, its regional leaders, and its political parties and mass media.

A cunning man, a schemer, a manipulator, a survivor, with his own far-reaching goals and his not yet revealed and not yet realized dictatorial ambitions, he is out to destroy whatever democratic achievements have so far been made in this post-Soviet Russia.

Lev Navrozov can be reached by e-mail at levnavrozov@gmail.com

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