By Valery Dzutsev
On September 20, Russian President Vladimir Putin appointed Vladislav Surkov as his aide (https://news.kremlin.ru/media/events/files/41d48f190dc2821f7392.pdf). Surkov replaced Tatyana Golikova and is expected to oversee “exactly” the same policy issues as his predecessor, according to the presidential spokesman, Dmitry Peskov. As the president’s advisor, Golikova supervised the issues of socio-economic development in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Surkov is now taking over this policymaking direction in the Russian government (https://www.rusnovosti.ru/news/282909/).
Earlier, analysts suggested that Surkov was returning to oversee Russian-Ukrainian and Russian-Georgian relations. Russia’s relations with Ukraine have recently been shaken, as Kyiv has strongly signaled its westward leaning by promising to sign an association agreement with the European Union.
Yet, for over a decade, under Putin’s leadership, Surkov has managed the domestic policies of the presidential administration. Following mass protests against fraudulent parliamentary elections in Russia in December 2011, Surkov was appointed Deputy Prime Minister of Russia. In May 2013, Surkov left the Russian government altogether (https://www.gazeta.ru/politics/2013/09/20_a_5662137.shtml).
Some analysts consider Surkov’s newest appointment of administering Russia’s policies toward the Georgian breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which are recognized by Russia as independent, as temporary. Nevertheless, this new role may be congenial to him. Vladislav Surkov is credited with the development and implementation of Moscow’s policies in Chechnya and the North Caucasus in general (see, for example, Mairbek Vatchagaev, “Did Surkov Step Down, or Was He Forced to Step Down?” EDM, May 23). So, it is plausible to suggest that Surkov’s policies in the Georgian breakaway regions will be reminiscent of those in the North Caucasus. Moreover, since Surkov has returned to the Kremlin after falling out of favor, he is likely to double his efforts to appeal to his bosses.
This combination of Surkov’s experience and zeal is likely to result in an intensification of Russia’s efforts to establish tighter control over Abkhazia and South Ossetia. And under Surkov’s guidance, Moscow may attempt to use these breakaway territories more efficiently as foreign policy tools for putting pressure on Georgia itself.