Russia's former 'grey cardinal' denies new Kremlin role

Reuters News
Posted: Aug 20, 2013 8:39 AM

MOSCOW (Reuters) - The architect of Russia's tightly controlled political system denied on Tuesday he had accepted an offer to return to the Kremlin, according to a friend, a move that would strengthen liberals in President Vladimir Putin's inner circle.

A report by pro-Kremlin newspaper Izvestia that former political aide Vladislav Surkov, 48, would soon be appointed Putin's adviser on business innovation fuelled speculation that he is about to be brought in from the cold.

Surkov was once known as Russia's "grey cardinal" for the influence he wielded behind the scenes as Putin's top political aide but quit in late 2011 and spent a year in the government before stepping aside as a deputy prime minister in May. His departure was widely seen as a victory for conservatives.

Izvestia said Surkov had accepted the new job as an adviser to Putin after turning down proposals to play a role in Russia's far east, the North Caucasus, the Skolkovo innovation hub and nanotechnology company Rusnano.

Surkov rarely communicates directly with the media but Alexei Chesnakov, also a former member of the Kremlin administration, said he had received a text message from his friend denying the newspaper's report.

"I have never discussed the position of aide on innovation, or envoy to the North Caucasus, or minister of the Far East, or head of 'Rusnano-Skolkovo'," Chesnakov quoted Surkov as saying on his Twitter blog.

The government's spokeswoman declined comment and Putin's press secretary could not immediately be reached for comment.

Putin often rotates people he trusts and Surkov's return to the Kremlin would not be a surprise as the president has a limited pool of intellectuals from which to choose and he likes to maintain a balance of forces around him.

Izvestia may have been floating an idea by the liberal camp to bring back Surkov as part of a battle for influence with the Kremlin hawks, who favor the status quo and resist the liberals' calls for faster political and economic reform.

Conservatives have been in the ascendancy in the Kremlin since Putin returned to the presidency last year and launched what opponents say is a clampdown on dissent following the biggest protests since he first rose to power in 2000.

Surkov left the Kremlin when the very system he helped create, concentrating power in the president's hands, came under attack during the protests at the end of 2011.

He quit his role as deputy prime minister overseeing innovation projects after a dispute with federal investigators looking into suspected embezzlement at Skolkovo.

(Reporting by Timothy Heritage and Darya Korunskaya; Writing by Timothy Heritage; Editing by Douglas Busvine and Pravin Char)