The Times of London provides us with a dossier on likely Putin successor Sergei Ivanov:
A FORMER KGB spy who studied in London, became a lifelong fan of the Beatles and speaks fluent English is being tipped to succeed Vladimir Putin as president of Russia. Sergei Ivanov, a deputy prime minister, is an avid reader of British espionage thrillers and has praised British spies as some of the best in the world. A close ally of Putin since the early 1970s, when the two served together in St Petersburg’s KGB headquarters, Ivanov was defence minister for six years. Since Putin promoted him to deputy prime minister four months ago, his popularity has soared. According to the latest polls, his approval rating is higher than that of his closest rival, Dmitry Medvedev, also a deputy prime minister, in the race to succeed Putin, who is due to step down in March at the end of his second term.
Ivanov, 54, was allowed to outshine Medvedev during the St Petersburg Economic Forum, a meeting of top western and Russian business leaders last week. Kremlin watchers seeking clues as to which of the two men Putin would back concluded that in terms of public profile, broadcast airtime and access to global business leaders at the conference, Ivanov outflanked Medvedev. In another signal, Valentina Matviyenko, the governor of St Petersburg and a Putin protégé, lavished praise on Ivanov, comparing him to Peter the Great. “The race to succeed Putin is an unpredictable affair,” a Kremlin aide said. “Putin could still take everyone by surprise by choosing a third candidate. As things now stand there are only two contenders: Medvedev and Ivanov. The former used to be the frontrunner. No longer.”
In one report circulating in Moscow, a small group of former KGB hawks in the Kremlin is plotting to have Putin returned to power a year after stepping down by installing a loyal ally who would serve only long enough to allow Putin to side-step the constitution’s ban on serving a third consecutive term. Ivanov and Putin have known one another for most of their lives. Both were born in St Petersburg – Ivanov is four months the senior – and grew up in kommu-nalkas, the Soviet-era flats shared by several families. Ivanov was raised by his mother, an engineer. His father died when he was a toddler. Putin and his future defence minister enrolled at the same university, the former to study law, the latter English and Swedish. “My idols were the Beatles,” recalled Ivanov, who is also a Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin fan. “And my interest in studying English was due to my fascination with their songs.”
In the 1970s, aged 20, Ivanov spent several weeks in London studying English as an exchange student. He later became a fan of John le Carré, Agatha Christie, Frederick Forsyth and malt whisky.
Like Putin, who took up judo and became a black belt, Ivanov was a keen sportsman, playing basketball for St Petersburg’s top team. Unlike the president, who still works out daily and is practically teetotal, Ivanov likes red wine and vodka and is a chain smoker, although photographers are told not to take his picture when he has a cigarette in his mouth.
Both Putin and Ivanov joined the KGB straight from university and studied at School 101, an elite spy school in the forests of Moscow. In the late 1970s they worked together in St Petersburg, then called Leningrad. “We met shortly after university when for two years we both ended up in a very small group in a very large organisation,” Ivanov said. “We shared the same professional interests and similar views, at times with the same ironical outlook on some of the activities of the party and the security services. “I then left Leningrad and he stayed but we didn’t forget each other. Once in a while we’d call and then we wouldn’t be in touch for long periods during service abroad.” While Putin worked for five years in East Germany, Ivanov held postings as an intelligence officer in Scandinavia and Africa. Ivanov once said: “I won’t talk about what I was taught at KGB school except for this: I was taught not to stand out in a crowd and second to speak professionally and at great length about nothing.”
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Putin left the KGB as a colonel while Ivanov rose to the rank of lieutenant-general. Under President Boris Yeltsin, he was appointed deputy head of Russia’s foreign intelligence service. In 1998 Putin was appointed head of the FSB, successor to the KGB. He made Ivanov his deputy. Although he comes from a more open-minded generation of KGB officers, described as the “Pink Floyders”, Ivanov is no liberal. He shares Putin’s mistrust of the West and anger at Nato expansion, and is a strong opponent of US plans to install a missile defence shield in Europe. As defence minister, Ivanov drastically increased military spending but opposed army reforms. Critics accuse of him doing little to tackle widespread bullying of conscripts. Two years ago he caused outrage when he tried to play down an incident in which Andrei Sychov, an 18-year-old army conscript, was so badly beaten that both his legs had to be amputated.
He was instrumental in Putin’s decision to bring back Soviet– era military symbols and caused alarm in the West when he threatened airstrikes against Georgia, the tiny former Soviet state, which he accused of harbouring Chechen militants. Ivanov, who is married with two grown-up sons, is believed to have ordered the assassination of Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev, a former Chechen president considered a terrorist by the Russians, who was blown up in Qatar in 2004. “Russia’s next president may turn out to be someone who is not even on our radar, but if Ivanov comes to power, those who are criticising Putin now may come to miss him,” said a western diplomat. “Behind the worldly facade is a steely hawk – a replica of Putin without the charisma.”