Putin Dismisses Powerful Old Ally, His Chief Of Staff, Sergei Ivanov

August 12, 2016
Sergei Ivanov. Photo: ITAR-TASS

LIVE UPDATES: President Putin has demoted Sergei Ivanov, head of the Presidential Administration, replacing him with Anton Vaino.

Welcome to our column, Russia Update, where we will be closely following day-to-day developments in Russia, including the Russian government’s foreign and domestic policies.

The previous issue is here.

Recent Analysis and Translations:

– The Kremlin is Working Hard to Make Donald Trump President
Russian Elections Round-Up: Parnas List Accepted; Party of Pensioners Forced to Remove Candidates
‘What Would Boris Do?” Opposition Struggles with In-Fighting on Eve of September Elections
NATO Got Nothing From Conceding To Russia In the Past, Why Should It Cave To The Kremlin Now?


Three Opposition Candidates Detained in Moscow; Mosque-Goers Detained in Makhachkala

This morning, August 12, three opposition members running for seats in the parliamentary elections September 18 were detained, The Village, a Moscow news site, reported, citing a news release from the Yabloko opposition party.

Translation: video from the detention. The candidates for deputies of the State Duma were pushed into the police van like sacks of potatoes. Everything was lawful.

They are Konstantin Yankauskas from the Parnas party and Mikhail Peskov and Yuliya Glyamina from Yabloko.

The three had come to the Moscow office of the ruling party, United Russia on Banny Lane in order to meet with a group of mothers with many children who had organized a hunger strike because they had been unable to obtain  housing. The police arrived 50 minutes after the meeting got underway. Then ten minutes later they were detained.
The three candidates were suspected of “organizing an unsanctioned rally” but formal charges were delayed. They were held for the day at the Meshchansky District Police Precinct and then released this evening with only a desk report, OVD-Info, the police monitoring group reported. Police conceded that they had committed no offenses.
According to Russian law, a prosecutor’s signature is required before candidates for elections can be detained and investigated, but this was not done.
Vitaly Serukhanov and Yelena Zakharova, protesters who were also detained at the same meeting, were also released this evening, pending hearings for “violating the procedure for holding a public event.”
Zakharova was characterized as “the organizer of an action” although she is just an activist who came to meet the candidates.
According to Yabloko and OVD-Info, during the arrest, police used force and injured Serukhanov’s arm and tore Peskov’s shirt; both suffered bruises and cuts.
Last Sunday the opposition was given permission to hold a rally, but it was far from the Red Square area at the center, which they had originally requested. About 2,000 were reported to participate without incident, but it was a far cry from anti-war and economic protests drawing as many as 30,000 in past years.
Today Ilym Umerov, the deputy head of the Mejlis, the Crimean Tatar Assembly, was sent by Russian-occupation judge Tatyana Rube for forced psychiatric examination, the human rights news site Chronicle of Current Events reported.
He is charged with “separatism” in a case that his lawyer and human rights activists say was fabricated as part of the overall effort to suppress the Crimean Tatar movement in Crimea. 
During the court hearing, Umerov, who has a heart condition, fell ill and was taken to the hospital. The judge made her ruling in his absence and without hearing the defense’s evidence that the forced examination was not required.
Twenty members of a Salafi mosque in Makhachkala were detained today on Vengerskhikh Boytsov Street, site of past arrests, OVD-Info reported, citing the local newspaper Chernovik.
While this seems like a large number, it’s less than have been arrested in the past, where as many as 30 or 60 might be detained and held while their ID is checked and they are interrogated about their activities.  All were released this evening.
OVD-Info also reports that a large three-day rock festival called Nature Fest has been canceled after a phone call from the police and threats that the musicians’ equipment could be confiscated.
A lone picketer on Red Square, Anastasiyia Mokrenok was detained and then released, then picked up again in the metro, OVD-Info reported. No news about her status has been received since.

It’s important to remember that when there is external aggression by the Kremlin, often there is internal repression to accompany it to intimidate groups that might protest against war. While any of these incidents would be “business as usual” in Russia on any given day, there seems to be an escalation of such arrests and the manhandling of the Russian candidates and the forced psychiatric internment of the Crimean Tatar leader also seems to be a new level of harassment.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick 

Who is Anton Vaino? Putin’s New Head of the Presidential Administration, Replacing Ivanov
As we reported, President Vladimir Putin has dismissed his chief of staff and shuffled the security council, leaving Ivanov a permanent member and placing some Russian-installed Crimean leaders on it as well as others from the siloviki on the non-permanent members list.

Ivanov was reported to suggest his own deputy, Anton Vaino, as his replacement, an official who worked closely with Putin as head of protocol. 

Several sources told the business daily Vedomosti that Vaino was “Putin’s personal man.” Vaino comes from the top Soviet-era Estonian elite; his grandfather was secretary of the Estonian Communist Party from 1978-1988, i.e. until the era of Mikhail Gorbachev and reforms. That means like Vladislav Surkov, a Chechen very loyal to the Kremlin and close to Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov, Vaino comes from an ethnic background of people known for resistance to the Soviet government — but comes from a family helping Moscow to suppress that resistance.

His father was vice president of the large Russian automobile company AvtoVAZ and representative of AvtoVAZ in the US.

Vaino was born in 1972 in Tallinn and graduated from the prestigious Moscow State Institute for International Affairs (MGIMO). After graduating he began work at the Foreign Ministry and then was moved to the presidential protocol office in 2003. In 2007, he moved to the government as deputy head of staff and from 2011-2012 he held the post of chief of the government staff, then in 2012 was promoted to deputy head of the presidential administration.

(In Russia, the head of the presidential administration is the position which is called “chief of staff” in the US; there is also the position of chief of staff of the government, separate from the presidential administration.)

The Presidential Protocol Office is responsible for protocol during visits abroad and trips to the region by the president as well as major events involving the president. Protocol is a procedure or system of rules governing affairs of state or diplomatic occasions. The person holding this job essentially controls access to the president’s schedule.

Aleksei Chesnakov, head of the Center for Current Policy, who previously served as deputy head of the department of domestic policy in the presidential administration, had this to say about Vaino:

“Vaino is equally removed from pure politics and the siloviki, a man personally of Putin. He is not connected with the clans and the nomenklatura groups. He’s an administrator. He is a bureaucrat in the good meaning of this word. Putin has long had an eye on him and was preparing him for a higher position. Vaino is a very experienced apparatchnik. He is polite and accommodating but hard when it comes to defending Putin’s interests.”

Another source in the federal government also described Vaino as “a man personally of Putin”:
“He has always headed protocol, including running his [Putin’s] protocol in the government from 2008-2012. He was chief of the government staff in the most difficult six months for Putin — from December 2011 until May 2012. This is a position similar to head of the presidential administration.”

Vaino never got involved in domestic politics either at the White House [as the Russian government is called–The Interpreter] or the Kremlin.

“He didn’t play politics, he’s an administrator,” said the source. “He comes from a family of the Soviet Party elite. They say about him that he was ‘born with a silver spoon in his mouth.'”

Konstantin Makienko, deputy director of the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, was in MGIGO at the same time as Vaino and was in the same class in the Oriental Department. He recalls that he was a good student and chose a major that involved studying Japanese, which was considered prestigious in the 1980s. He said Vaino had a sense of humor and was sometimes sharp-tongued. He said that when the Komsomol [Young Communist League] was going to expel Makienko for non-participation in civic activities, Vaino stuck up for him and said it was “nonsense” and he was retained, even though Vaino himself was not a Komsomol activist.
“Vaino is a deep and serious person, a good bureaucrat and not at all an intriguer,” he added.
Oleg Morozov, former head of the department for domestic policy in the presidential administration wrote on his Facebook about the dismissal:

“Vaino replaced Ivanov in the post of chief of the presidential administration. I am sure this decision of Sergei Borisovich [Ivanov], just as he said, was voluntary! I really like him as a human being. I remember him in all his hypostases. Anton Vaino is an apparatchik of the highest class. For many years he ran the daily work schedule of the president. He is very polite! Always collected and organized. One of those who doesn’t allow mistakes. Amazingly efficient. He knows all the political and management elite of the country wonderfully. The president knows what he is doing!!! I think this is not the last personnel moves in the near future.”

As RIA Novosti reported, in 2005, Vaino was in charge of the schedule of events for the 60th anniversary of Victory Day in World War II, and earned the president’s personal thanks among others.

Konstantin Remchukov, the editor-in-chief of Nezavismaya Gazeta reported:

Translation: An informed source told me that the changing of people around the President is occurring according to the parameter of presence and maintenance of energy for work 24/7.

Aleksei Venediktov, editor-in-chief of Ekho Moskvy, posted a picture of Vaino holding a sheet of paper standing on a lawn in front of an ornate building, evidently in a ceremony: 

Translation: Anton Vaino. Starting with a clean page?

He also had these comments:

Translation: Anton Vaino is a Foreign Ministry man, his first assignment was 3 years in Tokyo. Let’s change to sake.

Translation: Putin’s friends and peers are leaving and subordinates of 40-50 years of age are coming in.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick 

Putin Shuffles Russian Security Council After Sacking Chief of Staff Ivanov
After sacking his chief of staff Sergei Ivanov as we reported earlier, President Vladimir Putin has shuffled the security council as well, Gazeta.ru reports.

First, he made Anton Vaino, his new chief of staff and Ivanov’s former deputy, a permanent member of the security council. Ivanov himself remains as a permanent member of the security council.

The former head of the Interior ministry and deputy secretary of the security council Rashid Nurgaliyev has been removed. Sergei Menyailo and Nikolay Tsukanov, presidential representatives to the Siberian Federal District and the North-West Federal District, respectively, have been appointed as members. Menyailo was the former Russian-installed governor of the city of Sevastopol in Crimea. Being removed from a key position and literally sent to Siberia seemed a demotion for Menyailo, who has met with Putin in the past many times. Yet now that he is seen appointed to the Security Council, it may mean that Putin needs him to handle issues like separatism in Siberia and devastating wildfires that have crippled the economy.

On the other hand, given how figures like Nurgaliyev lingered as a permanent member of the Security Council after his removal as head of the Interior Ministry, the Security Council may be a respectful way-station before actual demotion.  Nurgaliev is now a non-permanent member.

The former presidential representative to Crimea, Oleg Belaventsev, remains a member of the Security Council, although Crimea was removed from the status of having its own federal district and has been merged into the Southern Federal District. The new head of the Russian Customs Service, Vladimir Bulavin, an FSB general who previously served as presidential representative of the North West Federal District, also remains in the Security Council.

Vaino, as head of protocol in the Kremlin, would have met with Putin frequently and “undoubtedly was a person very close to Putin,” says political analyst Abbos Gallyamov. The question is whether, after Ivanov’s departure, Vaino will have the job in the Kremlin of managing the silovoki or power ministries, and which position he will take up in the Kremlin “clan wars,” political analyst Abbas Gallyamov told Gazeta. 

Gallyamov believes that Vaino has “distanced himself equally from other clans” in the Kremlin besides Ivanov’s clan:

“Like the governors appointed in the end of July — siloviki, mainly from the Federal Protective Service [FSO], the head of state needs an executive ‘adjutante’ in place of the head of the presidential administration, a person who will not get involved in clan warfare.”

An “informed source” in intelligence told Gazeta that Ivanov’s position could have been shaken by the Crimean border incidents. Ivanov had removed Belaventsev, the former presidential representative in Crimea. Ivanov covered the FSB in Crimea, “but did not grasp anything at all,” commented the source.

Ivanov, the party of war?

Igor Sutyagin, a former arms control and nuclear weapons specialist who served 11 years in prison for espionage and was exchanged by Russia for a group of US spies, says he believes that the firing of Ivanov could indicate Putin’s anger at the Crimean border provocation.

In  a talk show on Radio 4 this morning in London, Sutyagin said he thought it was possible Ivanov could have orchestrated the Crimean incidents without Putin’s knowledge.

“If this provocation was prepared by the head, the de facto head of the security services of the Russian Federation, Sergei Borisovich Ivanov, and the head of the Presidential Administration, if that was done by him, at the time when Putin tries to find some political rapprochement with the West to solve his problems, that is a very very substantial betrayal of the political line of President Putin. And he hates when anybody tries to force him to undertake any decisions. Putin is known for hating acting under pressure. If Ivanov tried to pressure Putin, to press Putin, into a certain direction, that is a very very substantial bureaucratic crime against Putin.”

Sutyagin described Ivanov’s appointment as environmental envoy, as “a very serious humiliation.”

Last year, when Putin went missing for a few weeks and Ivanov seemed to gain the upper hand, there was speculation that he was staging a coup against the president. As we wrote at the time:

One Russia analyst sums up what he thinks a variety of stories in the last few weeks amount to – a slow-motion coup in which some security officials in the Federal Security Service (FSB) and Federal Protective Service (FSO) with Kremlin chief of staff Sergei Ivanov, former KGB, team up against Putin, whose allies are Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov and the Interior Ministry or police, which also commands thousands of internal troops.

Thus, Ivanov has been described as heading the “party of war” in the Kremlin trying to influence Putin on Ukraine. Today The Telegraph noted:

He was widely seen by Kremlinologists as a leader of a hawkish, anti-Western camp of former intelligence officers who have come to dominate Kremlin policy making in recent years.

Mr Ivanov is believed to be one of a small clique, including Mr Putin, Nikolai Patrushev, the secretary of the security council, and Alexander Bortnikov, the director of the FSB, the modern-day successor to the KGB, who made the decision to annex Crimea in 2014.

If true, then Putin’s firing of the reputed head of the “party of war” would mean his response to events in Russian-occupied Crimea could not be as belligerent as anticipated. Yet Russia has sent more troops to the region and Putin has vowed he will not let the alleged killing of an FSB agent and soldier to “pass by.”

Gazeta writes that Ivanov was known not to be personally corrupt, and as former defense minister was seen as possibly instigating reforms in the military. He was said to have never recovered from the death of his son in a car crash four years ago, and is quoted as having three interests: basketball, leopards, and Eifman’s ballets, although he had little free time to enjoy his passions. Now he may.

The current, revised list of the Security Council follows:

The 11 permanent members of the Security Council in addition to Putin, the chairman, are:

Aleksandr Bortnikov, director of the FSB

Mikhail Fradkov, director of the Foreign Intelligence Service

Sergei Ivanov, special presidential representative on issues of preservation of nature, the environment and transport

Vladimir Kolokoltsev, interior minister

Sergei Lavrov, foreign minister

Valentina Matvienko, chair of the Federation Council

Dmitry Medvedev, prime minister

Sergei Naryshkin, chair of the State Duma

Nikolai Patrushev, secretary of the Security Council

Sergei Shoigu, defense minister

Anton Vaino, head of the presidential administration

The other 18 members are:

Mikhail Babich, presidential representative to the Volga Federal District

Aleksandr Beglov, presidential representative of the Central Federal District

Oleg Belaventsev, presidential representative to the North Caucasus Federal District

Vladimir Bulavin, head of the Federal Customs Service

Yury Chaika, prosecutor general

Valery Gerasimov, chief of the general staff of the Armed Forces

Igor Kholmanskikh, presidential representative to the Ural Federal District

Aleksandr Konovalov, justice minister

Sergei Menyailo, presidential representative to the Siberian Federal District

Rashid Nurgaliev, deputy secretary of the Security Council

George Poltavchenko, governor of St. Petersburg

Vladimir Pushkov, minister for civil defense and emergencies

Anton Siluanov, finance minister

Sergei Sobyanin, mayor of Moscow

Yury Trutnev, deputy chair of government

Nikolai Tsukanov, presidential representative fo the North West Federal District

Vladimir Ustinov, presidential representative fo the South Federal District

Viktor Zolotov, director and commander-in-chief of the National Guard

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick, Pierre Vaux

Putin Dismisses Powerful Old Ally, His Chief Of Staff, Sergei Ivanov

President Vladimir Putin has dismissed Sergei Ivanov, head of the Presidential Administration and long regarded as one of the most powerful men in Russia.

Ivanov is now to become the special presidential envoy for environmental activity, ecology and transport, the Kremlin announced today.

Ivanov’s dismissal is perhaps the most dramatic shift in power within the Russian state in a year that has seen a major reshuffle of departmental heads and governors. 

He is to be replaced by Anton Vaino, his deputy, who will also take his place at the Security Council. Ivanov did not take part in a meeting of the Council yesterday.

Set as default press image
Sergei Ivanov, Vladimir Putin and Anton Vaino. Photo: Kremlin.ru
2016-08-12 11:20:47

The Kremlin has published an official transcript of the meetingbetween the three men this morning.

Putin told Ivanov:

“We’ve worked together for many years, and we work successfully. I’m pleased with how you have fulfilled task in the fields entrusted to you. I remember well our agreement on how you asked that you not be used in this field of work in the post of head of the Presidential Administration for more than four years, therefore I am sympathetic to your desire to move to another field of work. I very much hope that you use all of your knowledge and experience to work effectively in your new place.”

Putin said that Ivanov had recommended his deputy for his successor.

Ivanov and Putin first met when they both served in the Leningrad directorate of the KGB in the late 1970s. In 1994, he became chief of staff of the Saint Petersburg mayor’s office, when Putin was first deputy head of the city administration. In 1998, when Putin became head of the KGB’s successor, the FSB, he appointed Ivanov as deputy director. When Putin became prime minister in 1999, Ivanov was appointed secretary of the Security Council.

Since then, he has served as minister of defence (2001-2007; deputy prime minister (2005-2011, becoming first deputy prime minister from 2007-2008); and was appointed chief of staff of the Presidential Administration in 2011.

In March, 2014, Ivanov was placed on the US sanctions list for his involvement in the occupation of Crimea.

Much less is known about Anton Vaino.

Ivan Zhdanov, head of the legal department of Alexey Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Fund (FBK), tweeted: 

Translation: Anton Vaino has been named head of the Presidential Administration. He knew how to hold an umbrella.

He was born in Tallinn, Estonia, and is the grandson of Karl Vaino, who was the First Secretary of the Communist Party of Estonia from 1978 until 1988.

Prior to working as a deputy in the Administration, he served in the Russian embassy in Japan and the Asian affairs department of the Foreign Ministry before moving to and eventually heading the Presidential Protocol Scheduling Department.

— Pierre Vaux