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Putin appoints new Kremlin domestic policy strategist

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks at an opening session of the newly elected State Duma, Russia's lower house of parliament, in Moscow, Russia, Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2016. In his speech to members of the newly-elected lower house, Putin said the State Duma must help make Russia stronger. (Natalia Kolesnikova/Pool photo via AP)
October 05, 2016 - 8:06 AM

MOSCOW - President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday promoted the head of Russia's state-controlled nuclear corporation to be his new domestic policy strategist.

Putin's decree names Rosatom chief Sergei Kiriyenko, 54, the Kremlin's first deputy chief of staff in charge of domestic politics, responsible for formulating a broad range of policies.

Kiriyenko replaces Vyacheslav Volodin, who was named the speaker of the newly elected lower house.

While Volodin has largely stayed out of the public eye, he has been widely seen as one of Russia's most influential officials, a puppet master who directed parliament's work and engineered elections.

The 52-year-old has become known for his statement "there is no Russia without Putin."

In a speech Wednesday before the new parliament, Volodin emphasized the need for consolidation "in the face of unprecedented pressure on our country," a reference to the escalating strain in Russia-West ties over Syria and Ukraine.

Like Volodin before him, Kiriyenko is expected to wield broad informal powers, reaching out to various sectors of Russian officialdom.

Kiriyenko shot to prominence in 1998 when he became Russia's youngest prime minister at the age of 35, but lost his job four months later amid a financial crisis. He later served as Putin's regional envoy to the Volga River region before being put in charge of Rosatom in 2005.

He cut an image of an efficient technocrat, negotiating various high-profile nuclear agreements and often accompanying Putin on his trips abroad.

Stanislav Belkovsky, a political consultant with ties to the Kremlin in the past, described Kiriyenko as a "bureaucrat with a liberal image" who will "impeccably fulfil all Putin's decisions." Speaking on Ekho Moskvy, Belkovsky predicted that Volodin may retain his influence.

Volodin's predecessor, Sergei Naryshkin, has been named the new chief of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), a clear demotion.

The SVR is considered far less influential than the main KGB successor agency, the Federal Security Service, known under its Russian acronym FSB, which focuses on domestic security issues like fighting terrorism, catching foreign spies and uncovering economic crimes.

Naryshkin reportedly has known Putin since the late 1970s, when both were students in the KGB academy, and his new appointment was the latest move in an ongoing Kremlin reshuffle that has seen many old-time Putin associates lose their jobs to younger, low-profile aides.

News from © The Associated Press, 2016
The Associated Press

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