Vladimir Putin's personal advisor Vladislav Surkov (R) photographed talking to Oleksandr Zakharchenko, the assassinated head of the so-called "DNR" in 2017. Ex-PM of the "DNR" Alexandr Boroday stands to the left of Zakharchenko closer to the camera. (Photo: 161.ru)
After a media boomlet suggesting Mikhail Babich, the recently recalled Russian ambassador to Minsk, would replace Vladislav Surkov as the Kremlin’s point man on the Donbas, Abkhazia and South Ossetia (charter97.org and iarex.ru), sources say Surkov will stay where he is (nakanune.ru).
“Despite rumors of resignation, Putin’s gray cardinal Surkov keeps job“
The idea that Babich would replace Surkov began to circulate even before Babich was recalled as ambassador. The argument was, Ivan Zuyev of the Nakanune news agency says, that with the election of Vladimir Zelensky as president of Ukraine, Vladimir Putin wanted to take a tougher line on Kyiv and who better to do that than Babich given his actions in Minsk?
The False Bottom telegram channel was one of outlets to make that argument. Another was Aleksandr Zhuchkovsky, the author of 85 Days of Slavyansk, who even suggested that Babich was working in or at least on the Donbas while still at the Russian embassy in the Belarusian capital.
But sources near or in the Kremlin have told Nakanune that all this is “fake news” and that there is no truth in it at all, Zuyev continues. He notes, however, that journalist Konstantin Dolgov has added an additional twist: Surkov will remain as assistant to Putin and so what his real role will be in the future isn’t clear.
Darya Mitina, the former representative of the “DNR” in Moscow, provides partial support for Dolgov’s line. She points out that the curator over the Donbas territories occupied by Russia “does not have official status.” Thus, the allocation of responsibilities within the Russian Presidential Administration may shift even if Surkov remains and Babich arrives.
Indeed, she suggests, Zuyev says, that the Kremlin may change these responsibilities without making any announcement; and outsiders won’t know who is really in charge until a long time after the fact. To the extent that is the case, speculation about Babich and Surkov is likely to continue.
Mitina said that she expects Moscow to make some personnel changes now that the elections in Ukraine are over but that in her view, “they will involve the lower and middle ranks” rather than the top person. There is no basis to expect “global changes,” especially at the top.
Moscow hasn’t made a final decision on what it will do next with regard to the “DNR” and “LNR”; and until it does, Mitina says, it would be strange to make a significant change at the top, something that might even make it more difficult for the Kremlin to maneuver on this issue in the future.
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