Surkov & Chechnya
“I have an acquaintance who has a firm reputation as a playboy. And even if he were now living in a monastery, people would still say: He’s the playboy who… and would recall legends and fables from his turbulent life as a playboy. Basically, legends outlive people, as is well known.
–Nataliya Gevorkyan discussing Surkov in Kommersant July 2005
Over the years many legends have been given to us about Vladislav Surkov. We were told he was “publicity shy”. This was proven to be untrue when Surkov went on a media blitz in both the domestic and foreign markets in the middle of 2005. At the time his actions sparked speculation that Surkov was putting himself forward as a contender in the race for “Operation Successor” to replace Vladimir Putin as President of Russia in 2008. If Surkov did put his name in the ring, he did it with such skill that it appears he was never considered a serious threat. At least he never appeared to fall victim to the schemes and intrigues that befell so many others in the pre-2008 in-fighting.
Then Surkov revealed that he was half-Chechen, and that myth was born. That of the man who could solve Chechnya’s problems.
Other narratives have emerged over time: Surkov the liberal. Surkov the novelist. Surkov the lyricist (it is rumored he writes lyrics for the Russian band, Agata Kristi). Surkov the hipster.
Slava Surkov’s persona of 1980s hipster has inspired a portfolio of memes on the internet. He has achieved a cult status on Tumblr where a cursory search of the Surkov tag has the potential to end hours later, bleary-eyed and wondering where the time went.
When he left the Government this past May, you could almost hear the collective groans of disappointment across the Internet. But enthusiasts need not have worried. Slava was still posting photos on Instagram, still making trips down to Chechnya to go fishing with Kadyrov, and making sure we did not forget him.
He even managed to introduce us to his father in Ufa. An interview in Russkiy Pioneer (a youth magazine) less than a month later revealed few new facts, but served to heighten the aura of mysteriousness that Surkov cultivates.
Meanwhile, it appeared that Surkov was in talks with the Kremlin about his future place in the ranks. Rumors would surface periodically over the summer about his imminent return. But these were all quickly quashed. When the most recent gossip surfaced, it was treated with some skepticism, but they turned out to be true, and Surkov is once again safely ensconsed in the Kremlin. He has replaced Tatiana Golikova as Presidential Envoy to Abkhazia and South Ossetia (2 breakaway regions in Georgia). However, the speculation has already started up again about Surkov’s future. Because surely Surkov’s ambitions must be greater than mere Presidential Aide and Envoy.
The latest gossip, by the way, is that Surkov will replace Kadyrov as chief of Chechnya. However, this rumor seems unlikely due to a number of factors.
First, Surkov is only half Chechen. This makes him something of an outsider in Chechen society. Added to this is the fact that he is not a practicing Muslim, and is, allegedly, a baptized Orthodox. And he was not raised in Chechnya or even in a Chechen community. In fact, Surkov is so much the outsider that I would argue that it would be impossible for him to maintain a firm grasp on power for very long.
Perhaps more importantly, however, is that Surkov probably would not want the job if it were offered to him. Not that he would not welcome the challenge if it were offered him, but that he is already running Chechnya by virtue of the fact that he has Kadyrov’s ear.
Further, Surkov was the alleged author of Chechenization (or Kadyrovization, as I have taken to calling it) where power in the ethnic republics is concentrated on one person who rules with an iron fist.
Given all of that, why would Surkov want to take on a more public role when he cearly does not need one? No, for better or for worse, Kadyrov will remain chief of Chechnya. And Surkov will keep stringing us along, which is his real hobby.