“It is of his own volition,” Dmitry Peskov, a presidential spokesman, said. “It’s to do with the fact that decrees were not carried out.”
Surkov’s departure ends, at least for the time being, a 13-year political career that saw him become the preeminent political mind in the Kremlin, credited with being the architect of Russia’s present political system, tightly managed from the top down, which he dubbed “sovereign democracy.”
For a decade, he led the Kremlin’s Department of Domestic Politics as deputy chief of staff to Putin and then Medvedev. However, his political downfall began in December 2011, when he was summarily transferred to his present job after the political machine he had constructed began to malfunction amid anti-Kremlin street protests.
At the time, he appeared to take sides with street protesters, calling them “our best people” in a newspaper interview.
“Surkov became a Carbonaro,” said Konstantin Remchukov, chief editor of Nezavisimaya Gazeta, a Moscow daily, comparing him to the 19th-century Italian secret society dedicated to liberal reforms.
Marat Guelman, a former political consultant who worked with Surkov on several projects, said the outgoing minister had become “marginalized” under Putin.
“He was caught in a paradigm shift. Today we see a return to tradition, to obscurantism. I think he himself wanted out,” Guelman said.
After his 2011 transfer, Surkov wisecracked, “Stabilization has eaten its young,” evoking French revolutionary Georges Danton’s remark that “the revolution has eaten its young” as he stood before the guillotine.
His departure will be interpreted as yet another blow to Medvedev, whose cabinet members have been picked off in political battles, and could signal that the prime minister’s position is under threat.
Few observers missed the irony that, in his run-in with Putin, Surkov met his political demise at the very hands of the arbitrary and unaccountable regime which he worked years to create.
“He was used to working in comfort, defended from external threats by his superiors,” said Alexei Venediktov, chief editor of Ekho Moskvy, said of Surkov. “In fact, he himself created such threats for others.”
Surkov originally tendered his resignation April 26, according to Natalia Timakova, a spokeswoman for Medvedev. However, a presentation by Surkov at the London School of Economics a few days later, in which he heavily criticized the handling by Russia’s law enforcement agencies of an investigation into the finances of Skolkovo — a high-tech innovation center financed by the government on the outskirts of Moscow — seems to have played the decisive role in Putin’s decision to relieve him of his duties.