Putin sacks veteran aide amid Ukraine talks

Putin sacks veteran aide amid Ukraine talks

Russian President Vladimir Putin has fired influential aide Vladislav Surkov, boosting speculation that the Kremlin is pushing for peace in Ukraine. 

Surkov, 55, had been Russia’s chief representative for peace talks between Ukraine and Moscow-backed separatists in the country’s eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk where more than 14,000 people have been killed since 2014. 

Before that he controlled political parties in the Duma and pro-Putin youth groups on the streets. 

Surkov, dubbed the “grey cardinal” due to his perceived influence on Putin behind the scenes, became prominent in the 2000s as deputy head of the presidential administration within the Kremlin. He invented the concept of “sovereign democracy”, saying Russia was not obligated to follow western liberalism. Surkov successfully manipulated Russian politics, deploying the pro-Kremlin Nashi youth group against the opposition. 

The Kremlin did not say whether Surkov would be given another position.

A fan of US rapper Tupac Shakur, poet Allen Ginsberg and painter Jackson Pollock, Surkov invented techniques to undermine critics, dissidents and foreign diplomats. 

Surkov spearheaded the creation of youth groups to counter pro-democracy movements in post-Soviet states.

He lost standing after the Kremlin was wrong-footed by unexpectedly large opposition rallies over falsified election results in 2011. The protests led to speculation that Surkov failed to predict and neutralise anti-government anger. 

He survived the setback to become an adviser to Putin in 2013, taking responsibility for Ukraine and the conflicts over Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which had been seized from Georgia.

Surkov came under question after protests broke out in Abkhazia in January following a September election that many voters in the pariah micro-state considered fraudulent.

The leader of Abkhazia agreed to resign days later after a visit by Surkov.

Emails leaked in 2018 suggested his staff had coordinated attempts to starts rebellions to t west of areas held by pro-Russia insurgents in Ukraine. His close ties with pro-Kremlin warlords in Ukraine’s Donbas region such as Alexander Zakharchenko – who assassinated two years ago – appear to have contributed to this week’s sacking. 

Dutch investigators in 2019 charged four pro-Kremlin separatists in absentia with the shooting down of the MH17 flight over eastern Ukraine in 2014, killing the 298 people on board. A telephone intercept showed Surkov talking about Russia providing military support to the insurgents six days before the plane was shot down.

Putin and Ukraine President Zelensky agreed to seek progress towards peace in December and Surkov was reportedly an unsavoury figure for the Ukrainians. 

Dmitry Kozak, a political veteran and close Putin ally, took over the Ukraine role in early February. 

 

Vladislav Surkov (left) with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Picture credit: Wikimedia  

 

 

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