MOSCOW, May 8 (RIA Novosti) – Russia’s influential Deputy Prime Minister Vladislav Surkov stepped down on Wednesday, in what one analyst described as the power vertical political system that Surkov once helped to create “swallowing its own fathers.”
“The president has accepted Surkov’s resignation,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Wednesday.
He added that Surkov, long known as a powerful Kremlin ideologue, submitted his resignation on Tuesday after President Vladimir Putin’s meeting with the Cabinet, at which Putin harshly criticized the ministers.
Peskov said that “the president’s decision to accept his resignation” was connected to the carrying out of decrees issued by Putin last May and to the work of the government commission responsible for that. He did not elaborate.
During Tuesday's meeting with Putin, Surkov had souned optimistic, promising the president that the entire government would improve its work in the future.
It was not immediately clear whether Surkov would be appointed to a different state office or not.
Surkov, who is considered to be one of the architects of the Kremlin-centric “power vertical” political system, was appointed by then-President Dmitry Medvedev as deputy prime minister in charge of modernization in 2011.
He is also a member of the board of trustees for the Skolkovo innovation hub’s coordinating body, the Skolkovo Foundation, and chairman of the board of trustees of the project’s university, the Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology. It was not immediately clear whether he would keep those posts.
Before joining the government, Surkov helped to create the current political system during his 11 years in the presidential administration, giving rise to him becoming known as Russia's "gray cardinal."
Surkov could not be reached for comment on his resignation. In a brief Facebook post he simply wrote: “Will respond to everyone at once: Yes, it’s true.”
Trouble at Skolkovo
His resignation comes amid a mounting crackdown by law enforcement agencies on the Skolkovo Foundation.
The investigations into fraud allegations at the high-tech hub prompted a rare public spat between Surkov and Investigative Committee spokesman Vladimir Markin.
Last week, Surkov spoke about investigators’ excessive zeal in the case, to which Markin responded Tuesday with a commentary in the Izvestia daily, in which he alleged that Skolkovo’s defenders are trying to derail the investigation by presenting it as political persecution.
Last month, the Investigative Committee alleged that the Skolkovo Foundation illegally paid $750,000 to the opposition State Duma deputy Ilya Ponomaryov, who has denied any wrongdoing.
Criminal investigations were opened into two senior Skolkovo executives in February over the alleged embezzlement of $800,000. Subsequent searches by law enforcement agencies at the offices of the Skolkovo Foundation disrupted the schedules of top managers.
Peskov said Tuesday that the resignation was not connected to the spat with Markin, or to the probe into Skolkovo.
Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev’s spokeswoman Natalya Timakova said the premier had been aware of Surkov’s plans to step down, as he had written his resignation letter back on April 26.
Both state officials and the political opposition seemed confused Wednesday by the news, which was described by some as sudden, while some analysts suggested that it was the latest offensive in the long-running turf war between Russia’s ruling clans.
Shadows of troubles have surrounded Medvedev’s Cabinet in the past several months, prompting speculation that he might face an ouster soon, as the country’s economy is not in good shape.
Surkov fell victim to the “power vertical” that he himself once helped create, just like tycoon Boris Berezovsky, whose funeral took place on Wednesday, said independent political analyst Dmitry Oreshkin.
Berezovsky, once an influential figure in the ruling elite, was found dead under unclear circumstances in his UK home in March after years of living in self-imposed exile in Britain, where he moved fearing prosecution in Russia.
“The vertical is swallowing its own fathers,” Oreshkin told RIA Novosti, comparing Putin’s policy to the purges of Soviet leader Josef Stalin.
Alexei Makarkin, a deputy head of the Center of Political Technologies, called Surkov’s resignation “a negative signal for the government of Medvedev,” who has been seen as a more pro-liberal statesman.
“Putin has been enforcing administrative pressure and relying more on the “siloviki,” Oreshkin said, referring to the powerful elite of Russian security and law enforcement services.
Pro-Kremlin analyst Sergei Markin argued that the resignation was connected only to the government’s poor performance, as “the president was unhappy with Surkov’s work.”
Defector or Author?
Some online liberal commentators praised Surkov’s move, calling on him to join the ranks of the anti-Kremlin protests, while others merely wished him good luck.
When asked by Russky Pioner (Russian Pioneer) magazine whether he plans to focus on a writing career, Surkov said that he had “a plot for a political comedy that is getting ripe,” adding that it was based on a true story.
Earlier media reports suggested that the politician had authored the book “Okolonolya” (Almost Zero) under the pen name Natan Dubovitsky. Surkov has also previously written poetry, as well as lyrics for the rock band Agata Kristi.
Some of the comments on his Facebook page read: “What about heading the opposition?” and “Will you seek asylum in London?”
Mikhail Yemelyanov, deputy head of the Kremlin-loyal Just Russia faction in the State Duma, described Surkov's departure as a sign of “the end of an era.”
(Updates earlier version with comments, analysis)