The most puzzling and unexpected high-profile resignation happened today in the Kremlin. Vladimir Putin dismissed the Chief of his Presidential Administration, his long-time friend and closest of allies, Sergey Ivanov. Formally, Ivanov filed for resignation himself, but in fact not only did he lose his position, he was moved to another post: he was made Special Presidential Representative for Environmental Preservation, Ecology and Transport.
But first, here is a translation of part of the formal conversation about the resignation, broadcast on national TV:
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin
His new special ecology representative, Sergey Ivanov
His new Chief of the Presidential Administration, formerly Ivanov’s deputy, Anton Vaino.
Putin: Dear Sergey Borisovich [ed. Ivanov’s middle name]. We have been working together for many years, and it has been a success. I’m satisfied about how you carry out your duties. I remember quite well how you asked me to not use you for this kind of job, as Administration Chief, for more than four years. That’s why I understand your desire to move to another job. I count on you there and I hope you will use all your skills and experience for effective work.
Ivanov: Vladimir Vladimirovich, first of all, thank you for your high appreciation of my work for the past 17 years. It’s true that in the beginning of 2012 we had a talk when I asked you to entrust to me this difficult and even troublesome job for four years. It turned out I headed the Administration for four years and eight months. I discovered that I was the eleventh Chief of the Presidential Administration which just turned 25 years old, and I was surprised to find out I was the longest-serving: I worked at this position for four years and eight months. I’ll try to work as actively, dynamically and productively as I used to at my new job.
So what happened between these two that would lead Putin to thank Ivanov, whom he has known since the 1970s, for the past four years of work, and have Ivanov de facto respond in public with “I’ve been working for you for 17 years, and now you treat me like this?”
As we wrote previously in describing the resignation of the former Russian Railway CEO Vladimir Yakunin, according to the informal code of practice in Putin’s Russia, a fired official files for resignation and is then transferred to another position considered to be fit for an honorable retirement. Either that, or he just plain retires, like the FSO (Presidential Security) Chief Evgeny Murov, who resigned in May.
Vladimir Yakunin was offered a regular Senatorial position, without an office in the Senate’s headquarters, and a Ford Focus as an official car instead of the BMW or Mercedes that is usually given to the Senate’s high-profile officials. By all measures, Yakunin’s treatment was the equivalent of dismissal in disgrace. It was so humiliating that Yakunin refused the position.
There are rumors that after his son tragically drowned in 2014, Ivanov had started to drink heavily and was not performing well. But had this been the reason for him wanting to step down, he would have just retired. Instead, Ivanov, a retired Colonel General, an honored KGB officer, the former Security Council Secretary, Russia’s Defense Minister from 2001 to 2007, a former Deputy Prime Minister, was transferred to something even more humiliating than a lowly Senate position: Special Environmental Representative, a role that hadn’t even existed before.
So what did Sergey Ivanov do to Vladimir Putin to deserve such a resignation in disgrace? Unlike Yakunin, Ivanov was never into business, so financial motives, theft, or management incompetence are excluded. What’s left is loyalty.
Sergey Ivanov was considered one of the two possible successors to Putin in 2008, along with Dmitry Medvedev. He was not chosen because he was much more charismatic and independent than his rival. Could this have become a threat to Putin now?
Russia’s President is known for his paranoid fear of popular revolution, a fear made deeper by the various Arab Spring revolts, and raised to a panic by the Maidan protests in Kyiv, when his ally Viktor Yanukovych had to flee Ukraine. Popular revolutions around the world led to the passage of a number of restrictive anti-democratic laws in Russia, and to various political repressions that are ongoing to this day.
In the meantime, Putin significantly strengthened his personal security detail, and created the National Guard, an elite group of his best Army officers and special forces. The new military body was headed by Putin’s long-time personal confidant and bodyguard, General Viktor Zolotov. After the National Guard was formed, a number of high-profile arrests and resignations occurred, with signs that a Zolotov-backed faction inside the FSB was behind the shake-ups.
Finally, less then a month ago, a coup attempt took place in Turkey. Needless to say Putin saw the hand of Washington behind the failed revolution, just as he saw the United States behind all the other preceding revolts. In fact, when the very first news from Istanbul started to leak out, it became clear that Russia’s President would get very, very nervous for himself.
So maybe that’s is what happened today. Maybe somebody close to Vladimir Putin, trusted by him entirely, exposed a plot. Or “exposed” a plot. Or exposed a “plot.” Or maybe Vladimir Putin was persuaded that Ivanov is a potential danger to him.
The emerging consensus among Russia’s independent political experts and pundits is that Putin is replacing his long-time allies—people who can address him as “Volodya”—with technical, bureaucratic staff like Anton Vaino, who worked as his Chief of Staff before joining the Administration.
Nevertheless, it’s important to note that Sergey Ivanov kept his chair at the Security Council. There has never before been an Ecology Envoy to this extremely important national security body.