Vladislav Surkov: Putin Aide Could Be Russian Kingmaker

Vladislav Surkov: Putin Aide Could Be Russian Kingmaker

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.

While flagellating enemy oligarchs like the British-based Boris Berezovsky amounts to a virtual pastime for most officials in the Putin administration, the rest of Surkov's speech, as well as subsequent statements he has made, show conclusively that he is no one-trick pony. In his "secret speech" he went on to stress the need for Russia to develop its own entrepreneur class and lamented the economy's over-dependence on energy exports. Most importantly, perhaps, Surkov championed the concept of "sovereign democracy" as the version of democracy most in harmony with Russia's prevailing political, social and economic circumstances. According to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's Victor Yasmann, sovereign democracy stipulates "Moscow's right to restrict the impact of international law, global economic bodies, and world public opinion on Russia's domestic policies." The Surkovian message to the West is clear: Mind your own houses and let us get on with building democracy a la Rus -- a sentiment evidently shared by President Putin.

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