Tatiana Stanovaya for Riddle
There were two key reasons in favour of Surkov’s dismissal. The first has to do with management and strategic understanding of the Ukraine crisis and the ‘Donbas project.’ Apart from other tasks, the FSB’s fifth service — i.e. its intelligence and international relations service — deals with Ukraine. Colonel-General Sergey Beseda has been heading this service since 2009. He is one of the most influential leaders in charge of foreign policy at the FSB. He represented the special services in Ukraine in the days of the 2014 revolution trying to ensure the security of the Russian embassy and establish rapport with the Ukrainian secret services. In the autumn of last year, Beseda officially supported Leonid Pasyechnik, the Minister of State Security of the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic, who conducted a coup and ousted Igor Plotnitsky. Plotnitsky had closely followed Surkov’s instructions on the ground, although the latter had different plans as regards developments in the separatist republic. Besides, the siloviki have traditionally had little trust in spin doctors like Surkov, who are often suspected of showing excessive admiration of the West.
Secondly, Surkov’s position is undermined by a lack of visible progress on implementing the Minsk ceasefire agreements, as well as by the stalling of Russian–American dialogue with Kurt Volker. In addition, Russia’s uniformed services are not interested in compromises with the West and would rather opt for radical solutions (such as awaiting Ukraine’s collapse and a degradation of the unity of the West). That stubborn and radical standpoint complicates Surkov’s work.
So why the delay? In short, there’s a backlog of postponed decisions, and a wish to sit tight and wait for the geopolitical weather to change. A breakthrough in the geopolitical situation would give Putin the chance he needs for restructuring. That window could open unexpectedly: Trump’s volatility may bring surprising new developments, that Putin will do his best to spin as positive, and open the door to needed staff reshuffles.