Letter From the Editors: Aug. 15 - 23, 2016

Author: Matthew Larson

Drama in the Kremlin, on the Campaign Trail, in Russian-Ukrainian Relations

Winds of change are sweeping past the notoriously thick walls of Russia’s most famous citadel - the Moscow Kremlin. Longtime, high-ranking Putin associates are slowly but surely being replaced by younger technocrats. The most recent ouster has Kremlinologists gasping: Russian presidential administration head Sergei Ivanov - one of Putin’s most trusted associates and a close friend. Ivanov’s replacement is his former deputy Anton Vaino, who has a long, Kremlin-loyal pedigree (his grandfather was the top Communist in the Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic) and a technocratic resume (he began his climb through the ranks as a Kremlin record-keeper). What gives?

Why was Ivanov replaced? Officially, his longstanding request to retire was finally granted, but his appointment to the specially created position of the president’s special representative on environmental protection, ecology and transportation looks somewhat like a blatant demotion and slap in the face, according to some experts. The speculation is that either Ivanov lost Putin’s trust, or he has become grossly incompetent. (The fact that many of Putin’s generation are advancing in age - both Ivanov and Putin are pushing 64 - might give credence to the latter theory). Andrei Kolesnikov says the fresh young faces are part of a Kremlin rebranding strategy ahead of crucial ballots - the September 2016 State Duma elections and more importantly, the 2018 presidential election. These young technocrats have impeccable bona fides and have climbed the ranks under Putin’s leadership - so for them, he is a sacred figure. Nikolai Petrov says this marks a qualitative shift in Russia’s new power system away from oligarchy to absolutism, as Putin’s pals who got wealthy from their "palace posts" are replaced by ambitious Putinite zealots eager to prove their acumen and their loyalty.

Recent drama on Russia’s traditionally dull campaign trail is proving just as intriguing as the drama ...

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