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Sergei Ivanov ,Putin's Chief of Staff Is a Man to Watch

Putin's Chief of Staff Is a Man to Watch

Triumphant success organising Victory Day celebrations points to growing influence of Sergei Ivanov

Alexander Mercouris

Tue, May 19 | 5,939 42



Sergei Ivanov — Putin's Chief of Staff



Kremlinology has never been our thing. However, for those for whom it is, they might care to note that the organiser of the tremendously successful Victory Day celebrations throughout Russia was Sergei Ivanov.

Sergei Ivanov is one of the most powerful men in Russia.  

Like Putin he was born in Leningrad and has an intelligence background. He served for a time in the KGB before the USSR broke up. Like Putin his work was in foreign intelligence, not police work. 

Ivanov and Putin are almost the same age (Putin is 3 months older) and are known to be close friends. Putin appointed Ivanov his deputy in 1998 when Yeltsin made Putin head of the FSB – Russia’s counterintelligence and antiterrorism agency. 

A year later Yeltsin made Ivanov secretary of Russia’s Security Council when he appointed Putin Prime Minister.

When Putin became President in 2000, he appointed Ivanov Defence Minister, which post Ivanov kept until 2007. Putin then appointed Ivanov Deputy Prime Minister with overall responsibility for the defence industries.

Ivanov then appeared to suffer a setback when Putin chose Medvedev to succeed him as President in 2008. Many had expected he would choose Ivanov instead.

During Medvedev’s Presidency Ivanov’s career marked time, but in December 2011, after Putin declared his intention to stand for the Presidency again, Ivanov was appointed chief of staff of the Presidential Administration. He has served in that post ever since, in effect as Putin’s chief of staff.

Ivanov speaks English fluently, as well as Swedish, and understands other Scandinavian languages, such as Danish and Norwegian. He is also said to speak some French.

He is reputed to be a brilliant analyst.  

There have been some questions about his skills as a manager. His stint as Defence Minister is sometimes seen as a failure and during his period as Deputy Prime Minister in charge of the defence ministries Russian military procurement appeared to be at a standstill.

This is unfair.

As Defence Minister it fell to Ivanov to bring the difficult war against the jihadist insurgency in the Caucasus to a successful conclusion. So far this remains the only case of a non-Islamic power winning a clearcut military victory against an armed jihadist movement.  

In August 2008 the Russian military won in just five days a decisive victory over Georgia, following Georgia’s attack on South Ossetia. 

There has been much criticism of the Russian military’s performance during that war, some of it reasonable, but most of it unfair. An objective observer would note that the Russian military carried out an exceptionally complicated military operation in sometimes difficult terrain against an enemy who on the battlefield equalled them in numbers at whirlwind speed and with total success.

The contrast with the chaotic handling of the Chechen war 10 years before is striking.

Whilst Ivanov was no longer Defence Minister when the war against Georgia took place, the Russian victory in that war is testament to the significant revival of the Russian military during his watch.

As for the procurement problems, these would appear to have been due more to a lack of resources than to any managerial failures on Ivanov’s part.  

Moreover, as might be expected from someone whose background is in analysis and intelligence, Ivanov appears to have focused the limited resources he was given on upgrading Russia’s command and control systems, rather than on new hardware. These are essential to a modern military but by definition are less visible to outsiders.

On close study it emerges that much of the criticism that is made of Ivanov’s time as Defence Minister and as head of the country’s military industries comes from Russian liberals and from the West.

It would be an understatement to say that the West does not like him.  Ivanov makes little secret of his mistrust of the West and is never hesitant to say so to Western officials in forthright terms and in faultless English.

I witnessed an example of this in January 2008, at the time of the so- called reset, when Ivanov gave an interview to RT in which he made no attempt to conceal his cynicism and mistrust of it.

For Russian liberals Ivanov is an arch typical silovik — a politician or official with a background in the defence and security establishment — and is therefore by definition someone to be opposed and feared. The fact that he is known to be suspicious of the West for some Russian liberals is further cause to dislike him.

Ivanov’s current position as Putin’s chief of staff and head of the Presidential Administration puts him right at the centre of the Russian political and administrative machine.

The Presidential Administration is the Russian government’s key coordinating and policy making body. It has inherited many of the functions (and allegedly some of the personnel) of the former Secretariat of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, whose former offices in Moscow’s Staraya Ploshchad (“Old Square”) it now occupies.

As it head Ivanov’s influence reaches into every branch of the Russian administration, while as Putin’s chief of staff he acts as Putin’s principal political adviser and as Putin’s contact point with the state bureaucracy and with the government.

Whatever doubts there may have been about Ivanov’s management skills have now been laid to rest by his brilliant organisation of the Victory Day celebrations.

To say that the Victory Day celebrations were high profile would be an understatement. Their overwhelming success cannot but reflect well on Ivanov, their organiser. 

If it was Ivanov who came up with or backed the idea for the march of the Immortal Regiment, it shows he is acquiring the common touch, something he has previously appeared to lack. 

Moreover Putin’s website, very unusually, is carrying a transcript of an interview Ivanov has given RT, in which he discusses the Victory Day celebrations and their meaning for Russia. 

It is unusual, to say the least, for Putin’s website to carry someone else’s interview, and off the top of my head I do not remember seeing it happen before. The fact that Ivanov is being given space on Putin’s website is to say the least interesting.

It’s too early to talk of Ivanov as Putin’s likely successor, but he is obviously on the up and is someone to watch.


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