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Who will replace Surkov?

Expert: “Dmitry Kozak is more likely to be shown the door, but Grigory Yavlinsky is a vague prospect”
16 May, 16:09
Photo courtesy of the Joint Forces Operation press center

Ambassador Kurt Volker, US Special Representative for Ukraine Negotiations, is visiting this country. On Tuesday, he visited the Joint Forces Operation area in the east of Ukraine and met with JFO Commander Lieutenant General Serhii Naiev who said: “I’d like to thank our partners for their support for our struggle against the Russian aggressor.” According to the JFO Press Center, Mr. Volker inspected materiel and humanitarian components of the operation close to the disengagement line: “Both sides discussed the situation with Donbas, in terms of security, and exchanged views on ways to peacefully settle the conflict.”

Recent events add up to an interesting diplomatic situation. After the election of Mr. Donald Trump, the White House’s attitude to the Ukrainian issue was complicated by the establishment of direct contact with the Kremlin. Most likely, it was a straight answer to the question of US officials failing to attend the talks concerning [Russia-] occupied territories of Ukraine. Experts have often noted the poor performance of the Ukrainian administration after it agreed to a Normandy-Minsk, rather than Budapest format – e.g., the 1994 Budapest Memorandum that would allow the US and UK to take part in the talks.

What we have now is the American, Kurt Volker, and the Russian, Vladislav Surkov, as the contact persons. They’ve met several times to discuss ways to settle the consequences of Russia’s aggression, including UN peacekeeping presence in Donbas. Needless to say, the Kremlin, being behind the whole odorous affair, could hardly be expected to meet the other party halfway. The talks were held, anyway (Kurt Volker and Vladislav Surkov last met in January 2018).

Before Mr. Volker flew to Ukraine, the State Department affirmed that he is still US Special Representative for Ukraine Negotiations. That was news, considering that his previous mandate had expired.

Another piece of news regards Vladislav Surkov. After Vladimir Putin’s election for a fourth term as President of the Russian Federation, the Kremlin’s cadre policy has been undergoing certain changes, in terms of rotation. There are media reports to the effect that Mr. Surkov, being in charge of Russia’s policy re Ukraine and cooperation with Abkhazia and South Ossetia, may well have to resign before long. President Putin’s Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov promptly responded by stating: “We never make public our cadre decisions. Let me remind you that foreign policy is the prerogative of our President, rather than any civil servant.” (

It is true that Vladimir Putin has the final say in practically any matter in Russia. Who will replace Vladislav Surkov, if and when? There are early media reports pointing at Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky and the man has been quoted as saying that he discussed the issue of Ukraine with President Vladimir Putin, along with the possibility of his replacing Vladislav Surkov as the chief Russia-Ukraine negotiator: “If this issue is raised, I’ll consider it very seriously because it’s at the top of the agenda.” (

Semen NOVOPRUDSKY, independent Russian journalist, told The Day: “Surkov could be retired, but one ought to remember that the man was once relieved of an important Russian government post and then regained it. I don’t think that this will directly affect [the issue of Ukraine]. We all know that there are various forces among Russia’s political leadership that have used their varying degrees of influence to reach their business and other goals during the war with Ukraine. Vladimir Putin has made his own most important decisions on Donbas. The man is still there and he won’t resign. Much will depend on sanctions, Russia’s domestic economic situation and its relationships with the West, as well as on what will happen in the Middle East. These factors are far more important than any persons holding any political posts in the Kremlin, handling political affairs the way it was practiced during CIS times.

“What, I guess, can change the situation in Donbas and the sums sent the so-called people’s republics [i.e., DNR and LNR] is the possibility of Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak receiving an important government post. From what I know, he was tasked with funding those ‘republics.’ If so, Russia’s financial aid to them will tangibly go down – and this will serve as a more serious factor than Surkov’s exit. I also believe that his odious political figure, in the eyes of the Ukrainian authorities and Ukraine’s Western and other participants in the process, shouldn’t be overstated. He isn’t the only one to have followed this political course.

“His replacement? Such decisions are always made behind closed doors. Russia’s Presidential Administration is known to have never followed any rules of law or Constitution, so that each time its membership would be renewed [as ruled by the President]. In other words, there might be no one vested with such powers, period. It is also possible that there will be an eminence gris tasked with handling relationships with post-Soviet states and CIS members. Another option is that the entire mechanism will be overhauled. Russia’s Presidential Administration is known to have often made cadre changes, appointing different persons and vesting them with different powers. In fact, there is no telling whether what Vladislav Surkov was tasked with will be assigned to anyone else. Just as there is no telling what has happened to the man who was the Russian President’s aide in charge of contacts with the CIS. His name is Sergei Glazyev and he is an outspoken opponent of Ukraine. Unlike Vladislav Surkov, he has never been a practicing politician and is way down on the responsibility scale, considering what Russia has perpetrated. This scale is topped by the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation and this organization doesn’t seem to anticipate any cadre changes while supplying manpower and materiel to the self-styled people’s republics, disguised as humanitarian aid convoys.

“Grigory Yavlinsky isn’t likely to replace Vladislav Surkov. Russia’s political system is such that a given post never means that the person that holds it has the degree of influence formally meant by that post. Russia’s prime minister under President Putin is a figurehead. Dmitry Medvedev’s influence on the decision-making process is close to nil, compared to Aleksei Kudrin, Chairman of the Accounts Chamber who has exerted his influence on finding solutions to some important economic problems.

“Russia could eventually decide to appoint someone as its negotiator, but only if it decided to make its stand in the matter of Ukraine a bit more constructive. No evidence of this so far. Perhaps further sanctions will help. Time will tell.”

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