Putin fires his 'Rasputin,' Vladislav Surkov. What now?
In Russia, President Vladimir Putin signed a decree last week dismissing Vladislav Surkov as his adviser.
Given the power he wielded, and his improbable rise, this news has become one of the most talked-about things in Russia. It's not exactly a transparent place, so what has resulted are various theories regarding the reasons for this decision and its potential consequences.
Most theories are built around the Ukrainian invasion issue, which has been supervised by Surkov's team for a long time. However, supervising does not mean that Surkov singlehandedly devised and implemented the foreign policy strategy in this direction. Ukraine has a special civilizational, religious, political, and economic value to Russia from the standpoint of its long-term geopolitical interests.
And the country's foundation is laid by one person only: Vladimir Putin. He perceives Ukraine (as well as Belarus) as an integral continuation of Russian statehood. For the Russian president, Ukrainians do not have any serious differences with the Russians. It is this pan-Russian or neo-pan-Slavic concept that underlies, deeply, the Russian policy toward Kiev. Any supervisor is just a manager who is responsible for developing certain tactical programs to implement this strategy, nothing more. That includes Surkov.
Vladislav Surkov has always occupied a special position in the post-Soviet Russia's management system. He stood at the origins of its formation and modernization. It was he who assembled the modern ideological framework of Putin's Russia using certain conservative, liberal, and centrist details. It became the foundation of the state system functioning. Surkov laid the principles of sovereign democracy in it (which are opposed to the Western model) as well as the idea of national interests' predominance over personal ones, and of total sovereignty that implies the independence of decision-making without regard to the West and East.
This system was built to complete a very specific mission: to return superpower status to Russia, the historical successor of the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union. Not surprisingly, in his latest article called "The Long-Lasting State of Putin," Surkov emphasized that the current stage (of Putin's Russia) is the continuation of the past models that had been developed at different times by Ivan III, Peter the Great, and Vladimir Lenin.
To deal with this mission successfully, Moscow needed to maintain its influence on the post-Soviet republics. For a long time, the strategy of holding these countries included only providing money flows and using technical and resource leverage (weapons, oil, and gas). Over time, it became apparent that the tactics did not work: corrupt elites in these countries just got richer at the expense of the Russian budget while new generations no longer felt like part of the Russian world and sympathized with the European and American models of state-building. Given these conditions, Russia, which is historically not inclined to form and use soft power, had to urgently switch to crisis management in the post-Soviet space. To save its influence in that geopolitical zone, Moscow needed to find other political instruments and tools because hard power had led to negative results. Vladislav Surkov was one of the few officials whom Putin could entrust with the management of the Ukrainian issue that had caused tension in U.S.-Russian and European-Russian relations.
At the same time, Surkov also oversaw the Kremlin's relations with the internationally unrecognized Abkhazia and South Ossetia and, more importantly, he was engaged in the formation of the ideological security concept. In fact, his article became the first signal of upcoming domestic political transformations. It emphasized that the vectors of the country's further development would be based on ideas that were laid down in the era of Putin's rule.
Given the importance of the ideology's institutionalization, Surkov's dismissal seems logical. Russia is traditionally a country where people engaged in ideology should be in the shadows. Being architects of the state brain, they need special conditions, and the key one is their complete abstraction from everyday internal and external problems. In this sense, the Ukrainian issue is one of the most stressful directions that requires constant concentration. It is obvious that Surkov was constrained by significant bureaucratic barriers in his former status. So the political decision was made to resign.
One should not forget that the next supervisor of Ukraine will be forced to rely on the long-term programs that were devised during Surkov's period. Considering how much time and resources were invested in creating the current configuration of influence on Kiev through the unrecognized DPR and LPR, it would be naïve to believe that the Kremlin is dissatisfied with the previous management and is striving for radical changes. Surkov completed his part of the work by creating red lines of Russian interests. Today, Putin wants him to bring the ideological design of the new system to the logical end. When the Russian president leaves office, this system will be at the core of the country's governance.
Areg Galstyan, PhD is a regular contributor to Forbes, the National Interest, and the American Thinker.