Newspapers don’t have the luxury of writing profiles so much as magazines, which proliferate on the internet. A favourite topic of pursuit: Who is the real right hand man to Vladimir Putin? They love looking at the power behind the throne, they can’t believe that without a “grey cardinal” he could get to where he is, and stay there.
This belies the fact that Vladimir Putin has been a successful political operative since his days in the city politics of St Petersburg. However, it is a correct assessment that his career has been surrounded by the same group of people time in and out (though there is by no means a stasis in who is part of this group at any given time). Right hand men prove their worth, but not all of them can really be the power behind the throne. Who is in the running anyway?
After Putin’s purge, the answer is, not many. Putin has always surrounded himself with friends, be they from his judo days, or his early career days. But the purge shows nobody is safe. Mikhail Lesin, master-mind behind the development of Russia Today (RT), died surprisingly in the US in 2015. However the cause of death first listed had to be revised under unclear circumstances.
Death is not the endgame for everyone, provided they can save their own bacon. While initially profiled by Vox as a man to watch, Igor Sechin’s previous difficulty with finances of the company Rosneft previously saw his requests for bail-outs denied. If he can establish rapport with Rex Tillerson as has been hoped previously, it will be lifesaving. Not literally, but he will probably want to avoid going the way of Vladimir Yakunin. Being in Putin’s graces probably beats the opposite.
The American Interest, brought to life by my academic nemesis Francis Fukuyama, pinpoints General Viktor Zolotov as one to watch, ousting Alexander Bastrykin, whom the US had previously sanctioned in part due to his proximity to Putin. As an aside, do note in that link from The American Interest the following quote:
This attack very much resembles an episode in 2014, when the 6th Service brought down General Denis Sugrobov, the head of the Economical Security and Anticorruption Department of the Interior Ministry, as well as his deputy General Boris Kolesnikov, in 2014. Sugrobov is still in jail awaiting trial, while Kolesnikov fell out of a window of the Investigative Committee headquarters in Moscow while under interrogation.
Keep your backs to the wall, everyone.
There once was Vladislaw Surkov, who has more often been named as the “grey eminence” to Putin. Peter Pomerantsev, author with a particular focus on Russia’s political activities and influence, and Adam Curtis, documentarian, have both profiled him in details as puppet-master (for those in the UK, you can watch Curtis’ HyperNormalisation thanks to the BBC). We can’t be certain if he is the one pulling the ultimate strings, but he set the scene (£) for the world we are in today.
But he did not last (unless the Novorossiya effort in Ukraine gathers more steam), and instead gave way to Vyacheslav Volodin. In September 2016 another power shuffle took place at the hands of Putin, which theoretically promoted Volodin, though the role he received was less powerful in the past. Putin has moved to replace most old loyalists with younger staff.
The AP also suggests this could be because the newbies will owe their ascent to Putin. I think they’ll have seen what Putin does with those who don’t serve the current political climate. But while it is not certain if Putin is interested in legacy-building, those who under his auspices tinkered with it, leave behind a system that is not working for those who remain or newly surface.
The next part of this series will look at what puppet-masters, if any, the other half of the Octopus (the United States) can offer up.
(Picture credit, although the painting is in the public domain, goes to Jean-Léon Gérôme, who painted François Leclerc du Tremblay)