Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Monday, May 13, 2013

Coming next: A Russian version of "The Daily Show?"

Political competition within the top Kremlin leadership is once again visible.

Vladimir Putin's former 'cardinal' forced out of government: Vladislav Surkov, known as grey cardinal, was said to be behind Russia's system of 'managed democracy'
Surkov and Putin
The mysterious Russian politician credited with building Vladimir Putin's particular brand of governance – masking tight control with pseudo-democratic institutions – has been forced out of government after publicly arguing with the country's increasingly powerful political police…

He was considered one of Russia's most deft politicians, crafting Russia's system of "managed democracy" and steering its powerful propaganda machine, mainly via control over state-run television.

Yet his star had been steadily falling since Putin returned to the presidency last year, choosing a path of open repression over the cunning manipulation favoured by Surkov…

The news came one day after Izvestia, a newspaper loyal to the Kremlin, ran a column by Vladimir Markin, spokesman of the Investigative Committee, a body that answers only to Putin and has led a widespread manhunt against the Kremlin's perceived enemies, including opposition activists. Markin attacked Surkov for criticising the Investigative Committee during a recent talk at the London School of Economics…

The investigative committee, rather than the general prosecutor's office, has led investigations into opposition leaders such as the corruption activist Alexey Navalny, as well as less publicly known protesters who now face charges of orchestrating mass unrest…

Surkov's departure was widely seen as a win for the increasingly powerful investigative committee and hardliners inside Russia as well as a blow against relative liberals such as Medvedev, who continues to battle rumours of impending departure…

Surkov, 48, was one of the most colourful politicians in Russia, even while he kept a low profile. In the 1990s he worked with Mikhail Khodorkovsky, then Russia's richest man and now Russia's most famous political prisoner. Even after joining the Kremlin, he wrote rock lyrics and plays under a pseudonym. He was known to be a fan of the rapper Tupac Shakur and once recorded a reading of Allen Ginsberg's beatnik masterpiece Howl.

There was much speculation in Russia as to what Surkov, once one of Russia's most powerful politicians, would do next. Speaking to the magazine Russian Pioneer, where he sometimes wrote a column, Surkov on Wednesday said: "There are some plans – a political comedy based on real news is ripening."…

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