Vladislav Yuryevich Surkov (Russian: Владислав Юрьевич Сурков) (born 21 September 1964),[1] is a Russian businessman and politician of Chechen descent.[2] He was First Deputy Chief of the Russian Presidential Administration from 1999 to 2011, during which time he was widely seen as the main ideologist of the Kremlin who proposed and implemented the concept of sovereign democracy in Russia. From December 2011 until May 2013 Surkov served as the Russian Federation's Deputy Prime Minister.[3][4] After his resignation, Surkov returned to the Presidential Executive Office and became a personal adviser of Vladimir Putin on relationships with Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Ukraine.[5]

Surkov is perceived by many to be a key figure with much power and influence in the administration of Vladimir Putin.[6][7][8] According to The Moscow Times, this perception is not dependent on the official title Surkov might hold at any one time in the Putin government.[9] BBC documentary filmmaker Adam Curtis credits Surkov's blend of theater and politics with keeping Putin, and Putin's chosen successors, in power since 2000.[10]

Journalists in Russia and abroad have speculated that Surkov writes under the pseudonym Nathan Dubovitsky, although the Kremlin denies it.[11][12][13][14]

Early years

According to Surkov's official biography he was born 21 September 1964 in Solntsevo, Lipetsk Oblast.[15][16] As per other statements he was born in Shali.[17] His parents, the ethnic Russian Zinaida Antonovna Surkova (born 1935) and the ethnic Chechen Andarbek (Yuriy) Danil'bekovich Dudayev (born 1942) were school teachers in Duba-yurt, Checheno-Ingush SSR.[17] Following the separation of his parents, his mother moved to Lipetsk.[2] In an interview published in June 2005 in the German magazine Der Spiegel Surkov stated that his father was ethnic Chechen and that he spent the first five years of his life in Chechnya[18] in Duba-yurt and Grozny.[8][19]

From 1983 to 1985 Surkov served in a Soviet artillery regiment in Hungary, according to his official biography.[20] However, former Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov stated in a 2006 TV interview that Surkov served in the Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff (GRU) during the same time period.[21][22]

After his military training Surkov was accepted[when?] to Moscow Institute of Culture for a five-year program in theater direction, but spent only three years there.[23] Surkov graduated from Moscow International University with a master's degree in economics in the late 1990s.[23]

Business career (1988-1998)

In the late 1980s when the government lifted the ban against private businesses, Surkov started out in business. He became head of the advertising department of Mikhail Khodorkovsky's businesses.[when?] From 1991 to April 1996 he held key managerial positions in advertising and PR departments of Khodorkovsky's Bank Menatep. From March 1996 to February 1997 he was at Rosprom and since February 1997 with Mikhail Fridman's Alfa-Bank.[23]

In September 2004 Surkov was elected president of the board of directors of the oil products transportation company Transnefteproduct, but was instructed by Russia's prime minister Mikhail Fradkov to give up the position in February 2006.[24]

Political career (1999-)

Deputy Chief of the Russian Presidential Administration 1999-2011

After a brief career as a director for public relations on the Russian television ORT channel from 1998 to 1999, he was appointed Deputy Chief of Staff of the President of the Russian Federation in 1999.[12]

During the beginning of his time in this role, Surkov's main appearances in public and in international media were as a public relations mouthpiece of the Kremlin. In August 2000, he confirmed that Gazprom would buy Vladimir Gusinsky's Media-Most, which at the time owned the only independent, nationwide Russian television channel, NTV.[25] In September 2002, he stated on behalf of the Kremlin that they had decided not to return the statue of KGB founder Felix Dzerzhinsky that had been torn down during the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.[26] After the 2003 Russian Duma elections, when the president's United Russia party got the most seats at 37.6%, Surkov delivered the Kremlin's enthusiastic response, saying "We are living in a new Russia now."[27]

In March 2004, he was additionally appointed as aide to the president.[28]

Since 2006, Surkov has advocated a political doctrine he has called sovereign democracy, to counter democracy promotion conducted by the USA and European states.[29] Judged by some Western media as controversial, this view has not generally been shared by Russian media and the Russian political elite.[30] Surkov sees this concept as a national version of the common political language that is going to be used when Russia is talking to the outside world.[30] As the most influential ideologist of "sovereign democracy", Surkov gave two programmatic speeches in 2006: "Sovereignty is a Political Synonym of Competitiveness" in February[31] and "Our Russian Model of Democracy is Titled Sovereign Democracy" in June 2006.[32]

Vladislav Surkov in April 2010

On 8 February 2007, Moscow State University marked the 125th anniversary of U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt's birthday with a high-level conference "Lessons of the New Deal for Modern Russia and the World" attended, among others, by Surkov and Gleb Pavlovsky. Surkov drew an explicit parallel between Roosevelt and Russian president Putin, praising the legacy of Roosevelt's New Deal, and between the US of the 1930s and present-day Russia. Pavlovsky called on Putin to follow Roosevelt in staying for a third presidential term.[33][34][35]

According to The Moscow Times, Surkov exerted his influence to have Ramzan Kadyrov appointed as acting Head of the Chechen Republic on 15 February 2007.[9][36] Since this appointment, Kadyrov has gone on to serve two terms in office and has been accused of numerous humans rights abuses.[37]

In October 2009, Surkov warned that opening and modernization of Russia's political system, a need repeatedly stressed by President Dmitry Medvedev, could result in more instability and more instability "could rip Russia apart".[38]

In September 2011, Mikhail Prokhorov quit Right Cause (political party in Russia), which he had led for five months. He condemned the party as a puppet of the Kremlin and named Surkov the "'puppet master' in the president's office" (Russian: главным кукловодом политического процесса), according to a report in Russian-language magazine Korrespondent picked up by The New York Times.[39][40] Prokhorov had hoped that Surkov would be fired from the Kremlin, but the Kremlin stood behind Surkov and said he would not disappear from the political stage.[41] At that time Reuters described Surkov in a profile as the Kremlin's 'shadowy chief political strategist', one of the most powerful men in the Kremlin and considered a close ally of then-Prime Minister Putin.[6]

Deputy Prime Minister for Economic Modernisation 2011-2013

On 28 December 2011, Medvedev reassigned Surkov to the role of "Deputy Prime Minister for Economic Modernisation" in a move interpreted by many to be fallout from the controversial Russian parliamentary elections of 2011.[42] At that time, Surkov described his past career as follows:[43] 'I was among those who helped Boris Yeltsin to secure a peaceful transfer of power; among those who helped President Putin stabilize the political system; among those who helped President Medvedev liberalize it. All the teams were great.'

Surkov giving a speech during the Fifth Congress of the Nashi Youth Movement

During this time Surkov helped create some pro-government youth movements, including Nashi. He met with their leaders and participants several times and gave them lectures on the political situation.[44][45] Nashi has been compared by Edward Lucas as the Putin government's version of the Soviet-era Komsomol.[46]

Surkov on his last day as Deputy Prime Minister in a meeting with Sergey Ivanov (Chief of Presidential Staff) and his ministerial colleague Arkady Dvorkovich

Since Putin's return to Presidency in 2012, Surkov had become marginalized as Putin "pursued a path of open repression over the cunning manipulation favoured by Surkov". As a Deputy Prime Minister Surkov had criticized the Kremlin's Investigative Committee, which has led investigations into opposition leaders, rather than the general prosecutor's office. The Committee has stated he offered to resign on 7 May 2013 whereas Surkov has stated he offered to resign on 28 April 2013. Putin signed it on 8 May 2013.[47][48]

Personal advisor to Putin, 2013 to date

During Putin's first two terms as president, Surkov was regarded as the Kremlin's "grey cardinal", having crafted Russia's system of "sovereign democracy", and having directed its propaganda principally through control of state run television.[49] and on 20 September 2013 Vladimir Putin appointed Surkov as his Aide in the Presidential Executive Office.[16] who became Putin's personal adviser on relationships with Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Ukraine.[5][50]

On 17 March 2014, the day after the Crimean status referendum, Surkov became one of the first eleven persons who were placed under executive sanctions on the Specially Designated Nationals List (SDN) by President Obama, freezing his assets in the US and banning him from entering the United States.[51][52][53][54][55][56][57][58][59][60][61][a] Surkov responded to this by saying: "The only things that interest me in the US are Tupac Shakur, Allen Ginsberg, and Jackson Pollock. I don’t need a visa to access their work."[62]

On 21 March 2014, the European Union (EU) placed Surkov on its sanction list barring him from entering the EU and freezing his assets in the EU.[63][64]

In February 2015, Ukrainian authorities accused Surkov of organizing snipers to kill protesters and police during the Ukrainian Euromaidan in January 2014.[65][66][67] This accusation was dismissed by the Russian government as "absurd".[50]

Despite being barred from entering the EU, Surkov visited Greece's Mount Athos as a part of Putin's delegation to the holy site in May 2016.[68]

Hacked emails

In October 2016, Ukrainian hacker group CyberHunta released over a gigabyte of emails and other documents alleged to belong to Surkov.[69] The 2,337 emails belonged to the inbox of Surkov's office email account, prm_surkova@gov.ru.[70] The Kremlin suggested that the leaked documents were fake.[71]

The emails illustrate Russian plans to politically destabilize Ukraine and the coordination of affairs with major opposition leaders in separatist east Ukraine.[72] The document release included a document sent by Denis Pushilin, former Chair of the People's Soviet of the Donetsk People's Republic, listing casualties that occurred from 26 May to  6 June 2014.[70] It also included a 22-page outline of "a plan to support nationalist and separatist politicians and to encourage early parliamentary elections in Ukraine, all with the aim of undermining the government in Kiev."[73]

Criticism and depictions

Before the 2010 U.S.-Russia "Civil Society to Civil Society" (C2C) summit, a U.S. House of Representatives representative for the state of Florida's 27th district, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R), was the lead signatory of a written petition which called upon the Obama administration to suspend U.S. participation in the summit until Surkov was replaced as a delegate for the Russian side. In an interview with Radio Free Europe, Ros-Lehtinen explained that she objected to Surkov's attendance as she views him as "one of the main propagators of limiting freedom of speech in Russia, intimidating Russian journalists and representatives of opposition political parties".[74] However, the summit went ahead despite her objections.[75] A 2007 Open Source Center "Media Aid" document identifies the Russian ura.ru information website as reportedly having links to Surkov.[76]

Inside Russia, Surkov has drawn criticism from activists and opposition groups: In September 2010, Lyudmila Alexeyeva appealed to then-president Dmitry Medvedev to dismiss him.[77] Opposition leaders Boris Nemtsov (Solidarnost), Vladimir Milov (Democratic Choice), and Vladimir Ryzhkov (People's Freedom Party) jointly demanded his resignation over policies perceived to threaten freedom of the press and journalists in Russia.[78] Igor Ivanovich Strelkov, who played a key role in the Russian occupation of Crimea, referred to Surkov as a "notorious" person who "focuses only on destruction...as in South Ossetia and other regions where he focused on looting rather than aide" (Russian: это люди, которые нацелены только на разрушение...в Южной Осетии, в других регионах, везде, где он находился...разграблением вместо реальной помощи.).[79]

In 2013 Surkov was characterized by The Economist as the engineer of 'a system of make-believe', 'a land of imitation political parties, stage-managed media and fake social movements'.[80]

In Western media outside Russia, a vocal and eloquent critic of Surkov and of the administration of Vladimir Putin in general has been Peter Pomerantsev. Pomerantsev has written op-eds in The Atlantic,[81] The New York Times,[82] and the London Review of Books[8][13][83] accusing Surkov, "Putin's chief ideologue" with "unsurpassed influence over Russian politics", of turning Russia into a "managed democracy", and of reducing Russian politics to nothing but "postmodernist theatre". In a talk before the Legatum Institute, Pomerantsev, along with Pavel Khodorkovsky, termed Russia a "postmodern dictatorship".[84]

Rumored pseudonym of Nathan Dubovitsky

On 13 August 2009, Russian business newspaper Vedomosti reported that an anonymous source told them that a recently released novel, Close to Zero (Russian: Околоноля), was written by Surkov under the pseudonym Nathan Dubovitsky (Russian: Натан Дубовицкий) in the magazine Russian Pioneer (Russian: Русский пионер). It was soon realized that the pseudonym is almost identical to the name of Surkov's second and current wife, Natalya Dubovitskaya (Russian: Наталья Дубовицкая).[11]

In a subsequent edition of Close to Zero, Surkov would write a preface to it under his real name, but would continue to deny writing the main text. In the preface, Surkov writes two seemingly contradictory statements: "The author of this novel is an unoriginal Hamlet-obsessed hack"; and, "this is the best book I have ever read".[8] Furthermore, the debut performance of the theatrical version of the novel, directed by Kirill Serebrennikov, was attended by Surkov.[85]

The novel, which has the English language subtitle "gangsta fiction", has as its protagonist a man by the name of Yegor Samokhodov. Samokhodov's occupation is public relations, and he is tasked with managing the reputation of a regional governor. First, he hires a writer to ghostwrite a piece of poetry to be published under the name of the governor without disclosing the ghostwriting, so that the governor may win an award and seem clever to his constituents. He then bribes a newspaper reporter to "correct" stories that portray the governor negatively, such as allegations that a factory of a relative of his is releasing chemicals into the air that harm local children.[14] The publishing houses and public relations firms in the novel are intensely violent, with each company having its own gang and turf wars being fought over the rights to publish or represent such acclaimed Russian authors as Alexander Pushkin and Vladimir Nabokov.[8] Peter Pomerantsev described the book as "exactly the sort of book Surkov's youth groups burn on Red Square."[8] The Economist wrote that the novel "expos[ed] the vices of the system [Surkov] himself had created".[86]

Other works authored under the name Nathan Dubovitsky, all published in Russian Pioneer, that are rumored to be the work of Surkov are:

  • Without Sky (Russian: Без неба)[13]
  • The Car and the Bicycle (Russian: Машинка и Велик)[87]

Influence outside Russia

Some outside Russia, such as Ned Reskinoff of ThinkProgress,[88] and Adam Curtis in the BBC documentary HyperNormalisation,[10] have claimed that Surkov's unique blend of politics and reality have begun to affect countries outside of Russia, most notably the United States with the choosing of Donald Trump for the 2016 US Republican nomination and Trump's subsequent campaign and election victory.

In an editorial for the London Review of Books quoted by Curtis, Peter Pomerantsev describes Putin's Russia thus:

In contemporary Russia, unlike the old USSR or present-day North Korea, the stage is constantly changing: the country is a dictatorship in the morning, a democracy at lunch, an oligarchy by suppertime, while, backstage, oil companies are expropriated, journalists killed, billions siphoned away. Surkov is at the centre of the show, sponsoring nationalist skinheads one moment, backing human rights groups the next. It's a strategy of power based on keeping any opposition there may be constantly confused, a ceaseless shape-shifting that is unstoppable because it's indefinable.

— Peter Pomerantsev, in "Putin's Rasputin", London Review of Books issue of 20 October 2011 [8]

Curtis claims that Trump used a similar strategy to become president of the United States, and hints that Trump's Surkovian origins caused Putin to express his admiration for Trump in Russian media.[89][90]

Personal life

Surkov has married twice. His first marriage was to Yulia Petrovna Vishnevskaya (Russian: Юлия Петровна Вишневская) in 1987, and it ended in divorce in 1996. Surkov married a second time in a civil ceremony in 1998 to Natalya Dubovitskaya, his secretary when he was an executive at the Menatep bank.[21][91][92] Surkov has four children: Artem (Russian: Артём) (born 15 October 1993[93]), the biological child of Yulia he adopted during his first marriage; and Roman (Russian: Роман) (born 2002[94]), Maria (Russian: Мария) (born 2004[94]), and Timur (Russian: Тимур) (born 2010[94]), biological children of his and Natalya's.[92]

Surkov has composed songs[8] and written texts for the Russian rock musician Vadim Samoylov (ex-member of "Agata Kristi"). He speaks English and is fond of poets such as Allen Ginsberg of the Beat Generation.[6]

Honours and awards

  • Order of Merit for the Fatherland, 3rd class (13 November 2003) – for outstanding contribution to strengthening Russian statehood and many years of diligent work
  • Gratitude of the President of the Russian Federation (18 January 2010, 12 June 2004 and 8 July 2003) – for active participation in the preparation of the President's address to the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation
  • Medal of PA Stolypin, 2nd class (21 September 2011)
  • Diploma of the Central Election Commission of the Russian Federation (2 April 2008) – for active support and substantial assistance in organizing and conducting the elections of the President of the Russian Federation
  • State Councillor of the Russian Federation, 1st class

See also


  1. ^ The individuals on the first list of United States sanctions for individuals or entities involved in the Ukraine crisis are Sergey Aksyonov, Sergey Glazyev, Andrei Klishas, Vladimir Konstantinov, Valentina Matviyenko, Victor Medvedchuk, Yelena Mizulina, Dmitry Rogozin, Leonid Slutsky, Vladislav Surkov, and Victor Yakunovich.[53][56]


  1. ^ "Беспартийный идеолог Владислав Сурков". Gazeta.ru. 16 May 2007. Retrieved 1 April 2009. 
  2. ^ a b "5 Facts About Vladislav Bratersky". The Moscow Times. 13 May 2013. 
  3. ^ Vladislav Surkov has been appointed Deputy Prime Minister
  4. ^ "Russian President Accepts Resignation Of Deputy PM Surkov". Radio Free Europe. 8 May 2013. 
  5. ^ a b Винокурова, Екатерина (20 September 2013). "Чем Владислав Сурков займется в Украине". Forbes.ua. 
  6. ^ a b c Faulconbridge, Guy "Kremlin "puppet master" faces errant oligarch", Reuters, 16 September 2011. Retrieved 21 September 2011.
  7. ^ Thomas, Matt (2016-10-29). "Vladislav Surkov: Who is Vladimir Putin's 'grey cardinal'?". International Business Times UK. Retrieved 2016-11-21. 
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h Pomerantsev, Peter, 'Putin's Rasputin,' London Review of Books, 33 (20), 20 October 2011, pp. 3–6.
  9. ^ a b Ryzhkov, Vladimir (2013-10-07). "Same Old Kremlin, Same Old Surkov". The Moscow Times. Retrieved 2016-11-20. Surkov played the decisive role in raising Kadyrov to his current post. For his part, Kadyrov refers to Surkov as his "sworn brother" and even has a portrait of Surkov hanging in his office in Grozny. and ...a person's formal job title in Russia never matches the actual authority they wield. 
  10. ^ a b "Adam Curtis, HyperNormalisation". BBC iPlayer. Retrieved 2016-11-19. 
  11. ^ a b Glikin, Maksim; Kholmogorova, Vera (2009-08-13). "Владислав Сурков стал писателем?" [Has Vladislav Surkov become a writer?]. Vedomosti. Retrieved 2016-11-20. Published novel Close to Zero was probably written by Vladislav Surkov. (Издан роман «Околоноля», написанный скорее всего Владиславом Сурковым.) 
  12. ^ a b Storey, Peter (17 June 2015). "Vladislav Surkov: The (Gray) Cardinal of the Kremlin". Cicero. Retrieved 9 November 2015. 
  13. ^ a b c "Peter Pomerantsev: Non-Linear War". LRB blog. Retrieved 2016-11-20. 
  14. ^ a b "Did Kremlin political chief really write murky gangster novel?". The Independent. 2009-08-14. Retrieved 2016-11-20. 
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  17. ^ a b Маринин, Максим; Косарева, Ирина (13 July 2005). "ЧЕЧЕНСКОЕ ДЕТСТВО СУРКОВА". scandaly.ru (in Russian). Archived from the original on 18 May 2008. 
  18. ^ 'Der Westen muss uns nicht lieben,', Uwe Von Klußmann, Walter Mayr, Der Spiegel, 20 June 2005. Quote: "Ich selbst habe die ersten fünf Jahre meines Lebens in Tschetschenien zugebracht."
  19. ^ 'Владислав Сурков: "Запад не обязан нас любить",' Archived 31 August 2005 at the Wayback Machine. in Inopressa Newsagency, 20 June 2005.
  20. ^ Sakwa, Richard (2011-04-07). "Surkov: dark prince of the Kremlin". openDemocracy. Retrieved 2016-11-20. 
  21. ^ a b Сурков, Владислав. lenta.ru
  22. ^ "Сурков Владислав Юрьевич – досье, все новости" [Vladislav, Surkov Yurevich - dossier and news]. Перебежчик. Retrieved 2016-11-20. According to one information source, he served in the artillery of the Southern Group of Forces in Hungary. According to another, he served in the special forces of the Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU). (По одной информации, службу он проходил в артиллерийской части Южной группы войск в Венгрии. По другой - в спецназе Главного разведывательного управления (ГРУ).) 
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  24. ^ "Владислав Сурков покинет "Транснефтепродукт"" [Vladislav Surkov leaves "Transnefteprodukt"]. Коммерсантъ (Kommersant) (in Russian) (25). 2006-02-13. p. 13. Retrieved 2016-11-20. By an order signed by Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov, the Board of Directors of "Transnefteprodukt", Deputy of the Presidential Executive Office Vladislav Surkov, resigns. (По подписанному премьером Михаилом Фрадковым распоряжению, совет директоров ОАО "Транснефтепродукт" покинет возглавлявший его заместитель руководителя администрации президента РФ Владислав Сурков.) 
  25. ^ "Kremlin closing in on media network". The Sydney Morning Herald. 2000-08-04 – via Newspapers.com. 
  26. ^ Gutterman, Steve (2002-09-20). "Return of statue opposed". Statesman Journal via Associated Press. p. 7A – via Newspapers.com. 
  27. ^ Holley, David (2003-12-09). "The Victor Extends an Olive Branch". Los Angeles Times. ISSN 0458-3035. Retrieved 2016-11-23. 
  28. ^ "Мемория. Владислав Сурков" [Vladislav Surkov fact sheet]. polit.ru (in Russian). 2015-09-21. Retrieved 2016-11-20. 
  29. ^ [1] title? cdi.org 2006
  30. ^ a b On Wednesday Political Elite Agreed to Speak Common Language, «Izvestia», 31 August 2006
  31. ^ Sovereignty is a Political Synonym of Competitiveness Archived 8 December 2006 at the Wayback Machine., Vladislav Surkov, public appearance, 7 February 2006
  32. ^ Our Russian Model of Democracy is Titled «Sovereign Democracy» Archived 5 November 2006 at the Wayback Machine., Vladislav Surkov, briefing, 28 June 2006, edinros.ru
  33. ^ Владимир Владимирович Рузвельт/ Putin Asked to Follow FDR's Example, Kommersant, 9 February 2007.
  34. ^ Kremlin Official Compares Putin to Franklin D. Roosevelt, Moscow News, 9 February 2007.
  35. ^ Roosevelt Russia's ideological ally – Putin aide, RIA Novosti, 8 February 2007.
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  37. ^ See Ramzan Kadyrov §§ Accusations of human rights abuses
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  41. ^ Volkskrant 16-9-2011
  42. ^ "Putin ejects Kremlin 'puppet master' after protests", Associated Press via The Guardian, 27 December 2011.
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  44. ^ [2] ncsj.org Archived 24 January 2007 at the Wayback Machine.
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  48. ^ Miriam Elder: Vladimir Putin's former 'cardinal' forced out of government. The Guardian, 8 May 2013
  49. ^ Anna Nemtsova, Eli Lake: Is This the Mastermind Behind Russia's Crimea Grab? The Daily Beast. 19 March 2014
  50. ^ a b Kiev's allegations that Surkov was behind Maidan developments in 2014 absurd — ForMin. tass.ru, 20 February 2015
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  65. ^ Ukraine accuses Russia over Maidan 2014 killings. bbc.com, 20 February 2015
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Further reading

  • Bovt, Georgii. "Vladislav Surkov: A Pragmatic Idealism." Russian Politics & Law 46#5 (2008): 33-40.
  • Mäkinen, Sirke. "Surkovian narrative on the future of Russia: making Russia a world leader." Journal of Communist Studies and Transition Politics 27#2 (2011): 143-165.
  • Sakwa, Richard. "Russian Political Culture Through the Eyes of Vladislav Surkov" Russian Politics & Law 46.5 (2008): 3-7.

External links