MOSCOW | Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday fired Sergei Ivanov, his chief of staff and one of his closest allies, in the most high-profile power reshuffle at the Kremlin in years.
Ivanov is the latest long-standing Putin ally to have been sidelined in what analysts described as Putin’s attempt to bring in a new, younger entourage.
The Kremlin’s press office on Friday issued Putin’s order to “relieve Sergei Ivanov of his duties.” The stern statement was followed by footage of a meeting of Putin, Ivanov and the new chief of staff, Anton Vayno.
Despite the clear appearance that Ivanov had been forced out, Putin insisted he was making the move at Ivanov’s request because he had been too long in the job.
“I’m happy with how you handle tasks in your line of work,” 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.”
Former KGB officer Ivanov, a former defense minister and deputy prime minister, has been seen as one of Putin’s closest allies. Ivanov was considered a likely successor to Putin before Putin chose Dmitry Medvedev to run for president in 2008 when he was unable to stand himself due to term limitations.
In a symbolic gesture, Putin on Friday appointed Ivanov a special envoy for transportation and environment, a stunning downgrade for the man who has been considered one of the most influential people in Russia.
In a subtle hint to the fact that his political career is over, the 63-year-old Ivanov in the televised remarks on Friday thanked Putin for his “high assessment of my work during the past 17 years.”
Ivanov was also taken off the Security Council, Russia’s top security body which discusses matters of war and peace and includes Putin, chairs of the parliament and chiefs of security services.
Vayno, 44, the new Kremlin chief of staff, has worked in Putin’s protocol department and was recently Ivanov’s deputy.
Social media users on Friday posted several photos of Vayno at Kremlin events in the previous years including the one where he, then chief of the protocol, was carrying an umbrella for the president.
Ivanov is the latest casualty in what now seems to be Putin’s campaign to get rid of his closest allies who have worked with him for decades and moved in the 1990s from St. Petersburg to Moscow. In the past year, chief of the Russian Railways Vladimir Yakunin, anti-narcotics tsar Viktor Ivanov and security service chief Yevgeny Murov have all lost their jobs. All of them are men in their 60s who studied or made their careers in St. Petersburg alongside Putin.
Among the most recent appointments made by the 63-year-old Putin are former members of his security detail.
As somebody who remembers well the 1970s when the Soviet Union was ruled by Leonid Brezhnev, a party boss in his 70s who at the end of his rule struck Russians as senile and was surrounded by men in their 70s and 80s, Putin wants to avoid projecting the image of an aging leader, said Moscow-based analyst Alexei Makarkin.
“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. “They are always near. They are always there for him.”
Respected business daily Vedomosti on Friday described Vayno in an article on its website “as Putin’s own person,” who is not affiliated with any Kremlin group.