Has Kremlin mastermind given game away in novel?

Thu Aug 13, 2009 5:58pm EDT
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By Michael Stott

MOSCOW (Reuters) - "Close to Zero" is the tale of a Russian publisher operating in a murky political system featuring paid-off media, corrupt officials, dubious politicians and law enforcement agencies on the take.

The short novel was published last month and passed unnoticed until Thursday, when a newspaper reported that its author was none other than the Kremlin's chief political strategist Vladislav Surkov, writing under a pseudonym.

Surkov, a shadowy figure who rarely speaks in public, wields immense influence. His role as deputy head of the Kremlin administration for the past 10 years under both Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev puts him at the center of political power.

In the novel, which advertised itself as "gangsta fiction," the main character Yegor Samokhodov orders a poet to write verse in the name of the regional governor to make the official look clever and win an award.

Samokhodov, a publisher who does a sideline in political public relations, then tries to bribe a female journalist at an opposition newspaper to "correct" stories about damage to children's health from a toxic chemical factory owned by the governor's relative.

Fact or fiction ?

The events portrayed are everyday fare in Russia, where local media sometimes take money in return for favorable coverage and those in power believe they can bribe or bully their way to victory in almost any situation.

A source at the Russky Pioner magazine which published the novella confirmed to Reuters that the story was Surkov's work.   Continued...

<p>Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev (R), First Deputy Chief of Staff Vladislav Surkov (L) and Kremlin Chief of Staff Sergei Naryshkin prepare the state of the nation address at Gorki residence outside Moscow, November 2, 2008. REUTERS/RIA Novosti/Kremlin/Dmitry Astakhov</p>