MOSCOW (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday fired Sergei Ivanov, his chief of staff and one of his closest allies, in the Kremlin’s most high-profile power reshuffling in years.
The 63-year-old Ivanov is the latest long-standing Putin ally to have been sidelined in what analysts are describing as the Russian leader’s attempt to bring in a new, younger entourage.
In a symbolic gesture, Putin appointed Ivanov a special envoy for transportation and the environment, a stunning downgrade for the man who had been considered one of the most influential people in Russia.
Ivanov, however, kept his seat on the Security Council, Russia’s top security body, which discusses war and peace and includes Putin, the chairs of parliament and the chiefs of Russian security services.
Former Kremlin spin doctor Stanislav Belkovsky says Putin, also 63, has been promoting younger people who were never his peers and who see him as the country’s supreme authority.
“Psychologically, it’s easier for Putin these days to be around the people who always thought of him as the great leader and cannot recall the times when Putin was not that great leader,” Belkovsky said on Ekho Moskvy radio.
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 between Putin, Ivanov and the new chief of staff, Anton Vayno, Ivanov’s former deputy.
Despite the clear appearance that Ivanov was 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,” 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.”
Ivanov, a former KGB officer, ex-defense minister and ex-deputy prime minister, has been seen as one of Putin’s closest allies. He 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 subtle acknowledgment that his political career was over, Ivanov in his televised remarks thanked Putin for his “high assessment of my work during the past 17 years.”
Vayno, 44, the new Kremlin chief of staff, has worked in Putin’s protocol department. Social media users on Friday posted photos of Vayno at previous Kremlin events, including one where he was carrying an umbrella for Putin.
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 with him in the 1990s from St. Petersburg to Moscow.
In the past year, Russian Railways chief Vladimir Yakunin, anti-narcotics tsar Viktor Ivanov and security service chief Yevgeny Murov have all lost their jobs. All are men in their 60s who studied or made their careers in St. Petersburg alongside Putin.
Among the most recent appointments made by the Putin are former members of his security detail.
Putin wants to avoid projecting the image of an aging leader, said Moscow-based analyst Alexei Makarkin.
He said Putin was sure to remember the 1970s, when the Soviet Union was ruled by party chairman Leonid Brezhnev, who at the end of his rule was surrounded by men in their 70s and 80s and struck Russians as senile.
“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.
The respected business daily Vedomosti on Friday described Vayno on its website “as Putin’s own person,” someone not affiliated with any Kremlin group.
This story has been corrected to show that Ivanov did keep his seat on the Security Council.