Volume III, No 5
A publication of independent researchers @EurasiaAnalyst
23 January 2015
By Susan J. Cavan
The search for a way forward from President Putin’s misadventure in Ukraine has revealed stressors on Russia’s political elite and prompted the intervention of “elder statesman” Yevgeni Primakov to map a strategy for the future. Primakov delivered his remarks in a speech to the Mercury Club (1) on January 13 and emphasized his main points in an article for Rossiyskaya gazeta two days later.
Primakov’s observations regarding Ukraine, most notably his comments on how to address eastern Ukraine, seem to highlight policy changes already underway in the Kremlin: “Can we still speak of Russia’s interest in having the southeast remain a part of Ukraine? My answer is yes; I believe it is necessary. Only on this basis can the Ukrainian crisis be managed.” (2)
In December, the Russian President’s executive office tasked with Ukraine policy, the Presidential Directorate for Social and Economic Cooperation with the Commonwealth of Independent States Member Countries, the Republic of Abkhazia, and the Republic of South Ossetia, was hit with a personnel shake up, which appears to be associated with a shift in tactics and leadership at a higher level of the president’s staff. Vladimir Avdeyenko, who was the department’s director for economic relations with the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR or DNR) and Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR or LNR) and Boris Rapoport, who handled political relations with the DPR and LPR both resigned in late November/early December from their positions in the presidential directorate. Apparently, the directorate also has lost the service of “five or six rank-and-file employees” in recent months. (3)
Vladislav Surkov reportedly has supervisory control of this Presidential Directorate, which is headed by Surkov’s former presidential administration colleague and former Minister for Regional Development Oleg Govorun. (4) This loss of staff does not necessarily signify a loss of influence for Surkov. As one analysis contends, the Kremlin has moved away from earlier aggressive tactics in Ukraine, dubbed the “Volodin Spring” (named for Kremlin First Deputy Chief Vyacheslav Volodin), and hewed toward the more deliberate expansionism promoted by Vladislav Surkov. (5) After a spring and early summer of military-focused intervention, Surkov had endeavored to find a negotiated settlement to manage eastern Ukraine; Kremlin support for some of the more flamboyant leadership among the militants (notably Colonel Igor Strelkov, who appears to be a member of the Russian military intelligence, GRU, and whose real name is Igor Girkin) was deemed an unsuccessful approach to the maintenance of control over events. (6) The stability of efforts to secure a settlement remains precarious, as direct, if denied military support continues, but it does seem clear that Surkov’s aims, if not the full range of his plans, are currently ascendant.
An interview with Boris Rapoport shortly after his separation from the presidential administration contradicted reports not only of a forced resignation, but also of any other significant departures. Rapoport claimed to have left work for health reasons and insisted: “During the entire period of the administration under Surkov’s supervision, two staffers have left, including me. For an administration of 30 people, this is insignificant.” (7)
In response to a question of whether the annexation of Crimea had been “overseen” by Surkov, Rapoport noted, “When I was appointed in 2013, a map of the Russian Empire on which Crimea was a part of Russia was already hanging in Surkov’s reception room….” Rapoport also defended Surkov from allegations of abandoning the militants in eastern Ukraine: “Surrendering Novorossiya – that is definitely not about him. He has always been, and remains, a supporter of the doctrine that “Moscow is the Third Rome” […] and believes that if any state does not expand its spheres of influence, it begins to decay. He proceeds on the basis that expansion is the natural condition of a healthy state. It was Surkov who in 2005 introduced the term “Pax Rusicana” into current political parlance….” (8)
It is an interesting side note, which may be connected to the fact that he is well-known in the west, that neither Surkov’s name nor title appears in the Kremlin list of presidential staff or advisers in English on the official Kremlin website. He is, however, listed as an adviser in the Russian language version of the site.
As for Vyacheslav Volodin, whose tactics regarding Novorossiya make him the presumed loser in the “policy debate” within the Kremlin, it appears his attentions are now to be directed toward upcoming elections. Volodin, a First Deputy Chief of the Kremlin staff, has oversight of the president’s Domestic Policy Directorate, which is currently headed up by Oleg Morozov. The Assistant Head of the Directorate, Viktor Seliverstov resigned his post and took up a position as Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Moscow organization of the Russian Popular Front. In addition to his directorate duties coordinating relations with Russia’s provinces, Seliverstov also had “supervised the integration of Sevastopol and Crimea into Russia.” (9) Reportedly, Tatiana Voronova and Timur Prokopenko are to be elevated to deputy heads of the directorate, with Voronova replacing Seliverstov in regional affairs. This personnel shuffle apparently is connected with upcoming (2016) parliamentary elections. (10)
On a further note regarding Crimea, Russian Vice Premier Dmitri Kozak has had difficulty finding a general contractor for the Kremlin’s Kerch bridge project to connect Russia and Crimea with a bridge over the Kerch Strait. After months of debate over the financing of the bridge and possibilities of collecting tolls to make the project more attractive, it seemed a contractor had been found from among the heavy-hitters in Putin’s inner circle, former Gunvor Group co-owner Gennadi Timochenko. However, Timochenko decided in December that the project was too risky for his STG Group and pulled out of contention. Another of Putin’s longtime friends, Arkadi Rotenberg and his Stroygazmontazh have announced that they will pick up some of the work to build the Kerch bridge, but will not assume responsibility for the overall project as general contractor. (11)
Even as issues in Crimea and eastern Ukraine dominate Kremlin operations, Ukraine is not the only focus of projected policy changes for Russia in 2015, nor the only area that will bear the stamp of Vladislav Surkov. It appears likely that Georgia and the South Caucasus will receive further Kremlin attention as well. Surkov recently announced preparations for the signing of a treaty with South Ossetia, one of the regions of Georgia that Russia has insisted is independent since the 2008 war with Georgia. According to reports, “independent” South Ossetia will sign an agreement for the “profound integration” of state institutions with Russia, a coordinated foreign policy, Russian assurance of the maintenance of law and order on its territory, Russian border checkpoints and customs control, as well as the absorption of the South Ossetian security services into their Russian counterparts. (12)
As the Kremlin Apparat processes the events of 2014 and plans for 2015, Yevgeni Primakov had more advice to impart to Putin and his team: Russia should “keep its door open for joint activities with the U.S. and its NATO allies if these activities are aimed at countering real threats to humanity: terrorism, drug trafficking, expansion of conflicts…. Without this [cooperation] we will lose our country’s status as a great power.” (13) Primakov also noted that: “External changes that would favor Russia should not be expected anytime soon. It is doubtful that the sanctions will be cancelled in the near future. Betting on some politicians and European businessmen who speak against the sanctions is not realistic.” (14)
To date, Putin has had no response to Primakov’s remarks, but excerpts were reprinted on the Valdai Club website. This suggests tacit Kremlin approval and perhaps gives Primakov’s commentary the weight of a trial balloon?
By Susan J. Cavan (email@example.com)
1) The Mercury Club was founded in 2002 “to support informal ties between the government administration and entrepreneurs.” (http://vestnikkavkaza.net/articles/politics/21972.html)
2) “Russia’s Course Cannot be one of Isolation,” Yevgeni Primakov, special to Rossiyskaya gazeta, 15 January 2015; Russia Behind the Headlines, via www.rbth.ru.
3) “Surkov loses staff” by Petr Kozlov, Vedomosti, 4 December 2014; BBC International Monitoring, via LexisNexis Academic.
4) Oleg Govorun was a key member of Surkov’s staff when Surkov held the post of Deputy Chief of the Presidential Staff. Govorun left the government shortly before Putin’s return to the presidency and returned to Putin’s service weeks after Surkov’s return as a Presidential Aide in 2013.
5) “Managed spring” by Pavel Kanygin, Novaya gazeta, 8 December 2014; BBC Monitoring International Reports, via LexisNexis Academic.
6) “All is Not Well in Novorossiya” by Michael Weiss, 12 July 2014, Foreign Policy, via http://foreignpolicy.com/2014/07/12/all-is-not-well-in-novorossiya/.
7) “Boris Rapoport: ‘A map on which Crimea was part of Russia was already hanging in Surkov’s reception room in 2013’” by Darya Mazayeva, 15 December 2014, Moskovskiy komsomolets; BBC Monitoring International Reports, via LexisNexis Academic.
9) “New Curators” by Irina Nagornykh, Kommersant, 23 December 2014; What the Papers Say Press digest, via LexisNexis Academic.
10) Ibid. See also, “The Kremlin is Reconstructed for the Elections – BBC,” Russia News Online, 22 December 2014, via http://russiannewsonline.blogspot.com/2014/12/the-kremlin-is-reconstructed-for.html.
11) RIA Novosti, 21 January 2015, 3:36pm; Vestnik Kavkaza, via http://vestnikkavkaza.net/news/economy/65032.html. A previous report in Vedomosti (14 January 2015) identified Stroygazmontazh as the General Contractor, but the RIA-Novosti article appears as a correction to this impression.
12) “FSS will absorb KGB” by Pyotr Kozlov, Vedomosti, No 241, 25 December 2014; What the Papers Say Press Digest, via LexisNexis Academic.
13) Primakov, Rossiyskaya gazeta, Ibid.
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