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Wednesday 21 February 2018

Vladimir Putin reshuffles Kremlin inner circle

Many old-time allies to Vladimir Putin have lost their positions to younger aides (AP)
Many old-time allies to Vladimir Putin have lost their positions to younger aides (AP)

Russian president Vladimir Putin has reshuffled his inner-circle again by giving the parliament speaker's job to his chief domestic strategist, a man who oversaw a vote that further strengthened the dominance of the main Kremlin party.

It is the latest twist of a lasting Kremlin shake-up which has seen many old-time Putin allies lose their positions to younger, low-profile aides.

Vyacheslav Volodin, whom Mr Putin nominated as the new speaker of the State Duma, oversaw this month's parliamentary election in which the main party supporting the president tightened its grip on the lower house.

Mr Volodin replaces Sergei Naryshkin, whom Mr Putin appointed as the new chief of Russia's Foreign Intelligence Service, or SVR, on Thursday.

While Mr Volodin has largely stayed in the shadows, he is considered one of Russia's most influential officials, a puppet master who has directed the parliament's work and engineered elections. He was also widely seen as a driving force behind a string of draconian laws in response to massive anti-Putin protests in 2011-12.

The 52-year-old has become known for his statement "there is no Russia without Putin".

The reshuffling marks a clear step down for 61-year-old Mr Naryshkin. The SVR is considered far less influential than another KGB successor agency, the Federal Security Service, known under its Russian acronym FSB, which focuses on domestic security issues like fighting terrorism, catching foreign spies and uncovering economic crimes.

Under Mr Putin, a 16-year KGB veteran who served as FSB director in the late 1990s before ascending to the presidency, the agency has become increasingly powerful. Russian media speculated that the FSB is pushing to swallow several other agencies, including the SVR and the nation's top investigative body, the Investigative Committee.

If such a move happens, it would resurrect the old structure of the KGB, which was split into separate agencies after the 1991 Soviet collapse as Russia's first president, Boris Yeltsin, sought to limit its clout.

Mr Naryshkin has reportedly known 63-year-old Mr Putin since the late 1970s, when both were students in the KGB academy, but it is unclear if he wields sufficient influence to fight the FSB's onslaught and preserve the SVR's independence.

Many other long-time Putin confidants have recently lost their jobs.

Russian railways chief Vladimir Yakunin, anti-narcotics tsar Viktor Ivanov and Kremlin security chief Yevgeny Murov, all men in their 60s and all long-time acquaintances of the president, have been dismissed.

Andrei Belyaninov, who has known Mr Putin since both were KGB officers in East Germany, lost his position as customs chief after investigators searched his home and founds hundreds of thousands of dollars stashed in shoe boxes.

Last month, Mr Putin also fired his long-time chief of staff, Sergei Ivanov, whom he first met in the 1970s when they were both young KGB officers.

Many observers see the changes as a reflection of Mr Putin's increasing weariness with the old guard and his desire to encircle himself with younger aides who owe their ascent to him.

Mr Volodin has no known links to the KGB or to any of its successor agencies. Trained as an engineer, he served as a regional lawmaker in his home Saratov region on the Volga River in south-west Russia before being elected to the federal parliament.

He got the Kremlin job after his predecessor, Vladislav Surkov, was held responsible for failing to prevent massive protests in Moscow against Mr Putin's rule that were fuelled by evidence of vote-rigging in Russia's 2011 parliamentary election.

The Kremlin responded with a slew of laws that introduced tough punishment for taking part in unsanctioned protests and new restrictions on non-government organisations.

The Duma will vote to appoint Mr Volodin as speaker when it meets next month.

While the speaker's job is nominally considered the fourth most senior position in the Russian officialdom - following the president, the prime minister and the upper house speaker - its holders have wielded little influence compared with Kremlin and cabinet officials.


Press Association

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