Putin fires chief of staff, sign of fatigue with old guard

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Posted: Aug 12, 2016 1:38 PM
Putin fires chief of staff, sign of fatigue with old guard

MOSCOW (AP) — President Vladimir Putin on Friday abruptly replaced his longtime chief of staff with a low-profile younger aide, the latest in a series of moves by the Russian leader to rid himself of members of his old guard.

Analysts see the dismissal of the 63-year old Sergei Ivanov as a reflection of Putin's increasing weariness with his close lieutenants who had known him even before his ascent to the presidency. The Russian leader now seems inclined to promote new, younger members of the Kremlin administration who fully owe their careers to him.

The elevation of 44-year-old Anton Vayno, one of Ivanov's former deputies, doesn't necessarily portend any shift of Kremlin policy, which has invariably been shaped by Putin himself throughout his 16-year rule.

Ivanov met Putin in the 1970s, when they were both young KGB officers. Unlike Putin, whose KGB career reached its peak with a stint in East Germany in the late 1980s, Ivanov served several stints in Western countries — coveted postings which were considered much more prestigious.

After Putin won his first presidential term in 2000, Ivanov became his defense minister. When Putin had to move into the prime minister's seat in 2008 due to term limits, Ivanov had been considered his likely successor, but Putin chose Dmitry Medvedev as his placeholder for the following four years.

Some Kremlin insiders believed that Ivanov then ruined his presidential chances with a premature celebration of what he apparently had seen as the already secured nomination, something which had put Putin on his guard.

When Medvedev obediently stepped down after one term to allow Putin reclaim the presidency in 2012, Ivanov was named the Kremlin chief of staff, a job with broad authority. Ivanov, however, has been somewhat eclipsed by his deputy Vyacheslav Volodin, who has been the chief architect of the Kremlin's domestic policies.

In tightly choreographed footage broadcast Friday by Russian state television, Putin thanked Ivanov for his work and said he was ready to meet Ivanov's request for another job — the presidential adviser for the environment and transportation.

"I'm happy with how you handle tasks," Putin said. "I remember well our agreement that you had asked me not to keep you as chief of the presidential administration for more than four years and that is why I understand your desire to choose another line of work."

Putin kept Ivanov's seat on the presidential Security Council, a small consolation prize for his sharp downgrade.

Ivanov then praised Vayno as fully fit to replace him.

Vayno, a grandson of Estonia's communist leader during the Soviet times, served as a diplomat before becoming a Kremlin aide. He has been involved with daily bureaucratic routine and kept a low profile, a stark contrast with Ivanov, a fluent English speaker who enjoyed the international limelight.

Social media users on Friday posted photos of Vayno at previous Kremlin events, including one where he was carrying an umbrella for Putin.

Stanislav Belkovsky, a political consultant who once advised the Kremlin, said Putin prefers younger people who were never his peers and who see him as the country's supreme authority.

"Psychologically, it's more comfortable for Putin these days to deal with the people, who always thought of him as the great leader and cannot recall the times when Putin was not great leader yet," Belkovsky said on Ekho Moskvy radio.

Ivanov is the latest casualty in Putin's campaign to rid himself of long-serving members of his entourage.

In the past year, Russian Railways chief Vladimir Yakunin, anti-narcotics czar Viktor Ivanov and Kremlin security chief Yevgeny Murov have all lost their jobs. All are men in their 60s, and all long-time acquaintances of the president.

Another longtime associate, Andrei Belyaninov, who knew Putin since the times they both were KGB officers in East Germany, lost his job of the customs chief last month after investigators searched his home and founds hundreds of thousand dollars stashed in shoe boxes.

Among the new appointees to senior government jobs are former officers of the Kremlin security guard and stolid clerks who hadn't been known to the public.

"The president's circle has become narrower, and he picks up people whom he personally knows and deals with on a permanent basis," Igor Bunin, the head of the Center for Political Technologies, a Moscow-based independent think-tank, said on TV Rain. "They are steadfastly faithful to him."

The 63-year-old Putin also may want to avoid projecting the image of an aging leader, said Moscow-based analyst Alexei Makarkin.

He said Putin was sure to remember the times when the Soviet Union was ruled by increasingly feeble Leonid Brezhnev and his asthenic Politburo associates in their 70s and 80s.

"He wants to revive his team with the people he can fully trust and who are always near him, and that's why the sources for new hires are his security detail and the presidential office," Makarkin said.

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Nataliya Vasilyeva in Moscow contributed to this report.

This story has been corrected to show that Ivanov did keep his seat on the Security Council.