To look at him, one would never suspect that Vladislav Surkov once worked as an agent for a crack special operations unit in the Red Army's intelligence corps. A svelte, retiring figure, Surkov, 42, usually shies away from the public spotlight. When he does give interviews or make public appearances, therefore, it commonly occasions a media frenzy. Attempts to slice through the veil of mystery shrouding this high-placed presidential aide assume particular urgency because, by some estimates, Surkov is the second most influential person in Russian politics.
Surkov came to the attention of casual Russia-watchers in the West following a well-publicized keynote speech he delivered to a gathering of Russian business people in July 2005. In his speech (delivered behind closed doors), Surkov explained the Kremlin's policies toward a whole range of pressing issues, from the social role of Russia's fledgling business community to Russia's relations with the West. Indeed, its hard-hitting content seemed to present the prevailing ideology of the Putin administration in microcosm. While taking care to present himself as an unimpeachable free marketeer, Surkov railed against the so-called oligarchs, businessmen who made their fortune from the quick-fire privatization of Russia's state-owned assets in the mid-nineties. "We won't allow a small bunch of companies to exercise power in this country. This is not democracy," he reportedly told a rapt audience. ...
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