Economy-oriented Kozak replaces Surkov as Kremlin overseer of Donbas

27 January 2020

Vladislav Surkov, the Russian presidential aide who oversaw the war in Donbas, decided to resign from his position, as announced on Jan. 25 by his close associate, Aleksey Chesnakov, the director of the Center of Political Situations. He cited “the change in course in the Ukrainian tangent” as the reason for Surkov’s departure. The announcement was confirmed the same day by Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, who assured the public “there aren’t changes in the course of the Ukrainian tangent.” Russian President Putin hasn’t issued any decree on Surkov’s departure, he said.


Dmitry Kozak, a longtime close associate to Putin, will replace Surkov as the Kremlin’s overseer of Ukrainian affairs, as widely reported by the mass media. He was promoted by Putin on Jan. 24 to the post of deputy head of the Russian Presidential Administration after having served as deputy head of the Russian government for 11 years. Kozak differs from Surkov in that he views events in Donbas from a mostly economic viewpoint and is seeking to reboot the Russian economy with the removal of sanctions, Chesnakov said in August, as reported by the news site on Jan. 25. On the other hand, Surkov opposed compromising on Donbas since he didn’t expect the U.S. to relax sanctions, nor allow the Europeans to do so.


Zenon Zawada: Surkov’s resignation is a reaction to Kozak being appointed the prior day. We believe these events point to the Kremlin intensifying its efforts to fulfill the Minsk Accords this year and resolve the war in Donbas. Moreover, Zelensky reiterated on Jan. 26 that “more efforts are needed to try to end” the war after two Ukrainian soldiers were killed that day.


So we see enhanced prospects for a breakthrough in reaching a peace agreement by the summer, though no one can offer any likelihood other than 50/50.


It’s also worth considering that Kozak is a native of Ukraine (though spending his entire adult life in Russia), which improves even slightly the chances of his efforts for peace being taken seriously. Among his first foreign policy projects, Kozak led efforts to create a federation government in Moldova granting Transnistria the ability to block Euro-Atlantic integration, which collapsed in 2003, the news site reported on Jan. 27. Kozak is likely to want to avoid making the same mistakes, namely proposals that were too extreme, that caused Russia to lose its anchor on Moldova.

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