Vladislav Surkov, presidential aide
It's a strange title, but the easiest way to describe Vladislav Surkov's role in Vladimir Putin's government might be as the strongman's post-modernist-in-chief. It was Surkov who created Putin's system of "sovereign democracy" through which the former KGB agent has consolidated and centralized power in the Russian Federation. That system, which has allowed Putin to amass enormous authority from his seat in Moscow, required a clever spin-doctor. Surkov fit the bill. He manufactured opposition parties to provide the semblance of a political counterweight to Putin, pressured editors at newspapers and radio stations to follow the approved editorial line, and provided the rabidly nationalist ideology animating Putin's political machine.
Then, Surkov was ousted from the Kremlin in 2011, a move that was interpreted as a concession to the previous year's virulent protest movement -- which had formed in reaction to the system Surkov had created. He spent a year as a deputy prime minister, then resigned amid a corruption probe. But four months later, Surkov, who is often called the Kremlin's "gray cardinal" in a nod to his power behind the scenes, returned to power, this time in a lesser role, as a presidential aide. In his new role, he has been charged with overseeing the breakaway Georgian provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which Russia recognized as independent countries after invading Georgia in 2008. Little is known about Surkov's exact role in the Crimean crisis, but he is said to have been involved in decisions that led to the Russian invasion and is reported to have met with pro-Russian leaders in Crimea. Here, Surkov can be seen alongside Russia's then-president, Dmitry Medvedev.
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