The possible resignation of Vladislav Surkov from the post of Assistant to the Russian President is still causing an intrigue. He was also a supervisor of policies towards Ukraine.
Command Given to Him -- to Kiev
Despite the fact that Alexey Chesnakov, Surkov's unofficial spokesman and director of the Center for Current Policy (CCP), reported a week ago that Assistant to the Russian President was leaving civil service, Vladimir Putin has not yet signed a decree on dismissing Surkov. Therefore, there remains an intrigue around his resignation. There are at least three options: Surkov is leaving, Surkov is staying or Surkov is staying but he will be in charge of other tasks.
As always, information about an official’s dismissal logically prompts the summing-up of the results of his or her activities in office.
Dexterous journalists have already proposed Dmitriy Kozak, the new deputy head of Russia’s Presidential Administration, as a successor to Surkov. He is believed to have successfully negotiated the signing of a new agreement between Naftogaz and Gazprom on the transit of Russian gas to the EU via Ukraine.
However, for now, there is no point to expect that Russia's policy will somehow change drastically. Both Kozak and Surkov are representatives of the same pro-Western line in Russian politics. To be more precise, it may be said that they are pro-Western technocrats. In other words, tangible profit is the main thing, and ideology is solely for utilization in political rhetoric. For example, after signing a contract on gas transit through Ukraine that first thing Kozak said was that he was glad for "European consumers."
Therefore, generally speaking, Surkov and Kozak are sharing in the common cause but with different level of success. In the global sense, the pro-Western people work on the task of integrating Russia into the Western economic model. All other stories about "protecting the rights of the Russian speakers" are nothing more than a figure of speech. A different question arises, namely, how successful the competition with the Western establishment might be, if it is held by the rules of Western countries.
The Secret Task
In terms of the assessment of the work of the supervisor of policies towards Ukraine, it is necessary to honestly admit that there is not really much reliable information about Vladyslav Surkov’s activity in the media. However, it should be like that because part of the tasks is in the domain of state secrets. Therefore, in order to assess the results of Surkov's work concerning Ukraine, let us proceed from Russia’s interests and the risks coming from Kiev.
So, as for Vladislav Surkov, there are two main periods in his activities. Apparently, they were strictly related to the tasks that the Kremlin set forward for him. For example, in 2014, until a certain moment, the Kremlin was focused on the creation of New Russia (Novorossiya) in the south-eastern regions of Ukraine. After this project was abandoned, they started trying out "soft power" to promulgate the necessary messages.
However, there has been another important task in the work of "duty officers in Ukraine" -- the task on the geopolitical plane. The fact is that after the establishment of the external governance regime by the U.S. and the EU in Ukraine, there was a real prospect that NATO will go directly to the borders of Russia. Even if the media did not write about it much, a number of indicators showed that the Kremlin was seriously concerned about that threat.
Giving Battles in Vain
The Presidential Administration activities in Ukraine are better considered in comparison with other countries. For example, after the Verkhovna Rada under President Poroshenko adopted a law on education in 2017, the Hungarian authorities saw in it the discrimination against the ethnic Hungarians living in Ukraine. In the light of it, official Budapest promised that it would block all the Ukrainian initiatives on cooperation with NATO. For example, in February 2019, Budapest stopped the work of the Ukraine-NATO commission. Moreover, at that time, the Russian authorities were actively increasing trade turnover with Kiev, although the hosts of primetime Russian TV talk-shows like Olga Skabeyeva, Andrey Norkin and others castigated the "Poroshenko regime" without mincing words.
Recent examples include the reaction to the scandalous law on secondary education, which has already been adopted by Zelensky's "servants of the people" and which actually eliminated Russian schools “as a fact of life.”
Meanwhile, as compared to Hungary, Russia has more opportunities by far to "drive any Kiev’s government underground." This includes supplies of gas, fuel for nuclear power plants, and the total turnover of billions of dollars. And opportunities to bury Kiev with international lawsuits through Western courts and arbitrations.
Not to mention the fact that businesses run by the "good friend" Petro Poroshenko are also operating in Russia. The same is true of the businesses belonging to a number of other pro-government Ukrainian politicians and businessmen such as Rinat Akhmetov, Vadym Novinsky, Borys Kolesnikov, Denis Dzendzersky and others.
The question is that a shotgun by hang of a wall, may fire into the air or fire at precisely chosen aims.
The Provocation Operation
As for Surkov, the actions of his people in recent years have confined to selective provocations. To be more precise, it was specifically a situational response, although this approach certainly does not exclude strategic thinking. Of course, one can justify Surkov by saying that he was not given the tasks of that sort. On the other hand, we are not in kindergarten to clutch at the justifications like we did not use operational thinking because the school scouts’ leader did not tell us we should.
For example, Surkov’s people leaked the lists of opposition reporters and experts to the Kiev authorities. In November 2016, Vasyl Hrytsak, the head of the Ukrainian Security Service, said that the National Security Agency had hacked mail box of Vladyslav Surkov and revealed a plan named Shatun to destabilize the situation in Ukraine. In addition to the "cunning plan," the National Security Agency received lists of opposition reporters and experts who were supposed to participate in the "special operation of the Kremlin."
Apparently, the plan was that official Kiev would start repressions against the people on the list, and in response, the Russian Foreign Ministry and the media would lift up a cry to the whole world.
However, Poroshenko turned out to be smart enough to avoid this swindle and not to launch the series of repressions against those listed.
Or, for example, a really unpleasant provocation with a bas-relief depicting Marshal Georgy Zhukov. As it is known, Zhukov was in charge of the Odessa Military District from 1946 to 1948, so his bas-relief was installed in Odessa. On October 31, Odessa radicals dismantled the bas-relief with the image of Zhukov on the building of the regional military commissariat (87 Kanatnaya St.).
Simultaneously, with the help of Internet sites and social networks Russian reporters and experts started calling on Odessa residents to protest against the bas-relief or even to prevent its removal by force. Some speakers, such as Sergey Veselovsky (news-front) and Andrey Vadzhra (alternatio), made no bones to directly insult the Odessa’s residents along the lines of “you didn’t rebel well enough."
It is important to keep in mind that all this was happening in the context of the Ukraine-Russia-European Gas Commission negotiations. At the end of October, it was obvious that the talks hit a skid. Even EU curator Maros Sefcovic admitted that fact. First of all, of course, Naftogaz CEO Andrey Kobolev and Executive Director Yury Vitrenko disrupted the negotiations. However, another problem was that Sefcovic was overtly siding with Ukraine.
And now, let's imagine the storyline: "bas-relief removal -- Odessa residents go out to protest -- bloody collisions in the "May 2, 2014" style -- and Gazprom’s people say "that's the people who you support!" to Sefcovic and the European Commission employees.
However, as practice has shown, there were no people willing to play the role of "cannon fodder" so the idea did not work. In fact, what is the point? To get a scolding, so that then Maria Zakharova would go on TV speaking about a "grave concern"?
So, if we evaluate it from the point of view of "soft power," Surkov's people left behind "scorched earth."
Are They Not There?
Finally, Surkov is leaving or not, but the main task remains to create a buffer area along Russia's borders to prevent direct contact with NATO. Experience has proven that this is exactly the task that has not been accomplished.
Formally, Ukraine is not a member of NATO. Well, formally, Nazi Germany also attacked the USSR without declaring war.
In fact, the North Atlantic pact has crept to the borders of Russia. Starting from 2015, Poroshenko annually signed a decree approving the Ukraine-NATO cooperation program, which gave Western inspectors the full range of opportunities to use the geographic location and military potential of Ukraine. For example, now the Ukraine-NATO program for 2019 is working. Poroshenko approved it between the first and second rounds of presidential elections when it was already clear that "his number is up.”
In addition, the Americans also established a military base at the training ground in Yavoriv (the Lviv region) where the Ukrainian military is being trained. It is easy to guess that they are not trained to gather flowers there. The U.S. is upgrading the port in Ochakov (the Mykolaiv region) with a sight that NATO warships can enter the harbor. That is, in fact, the creation of a naval station without an official status though.
In this regard, the geopolitical game has been lost at this stage. One can say the victory is complete – even though with a pinch of sarcasm.