Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday unexpectedly dismissed his close ally and powerful chief of staff Sergei Ivanov, in the highest-level change inside the Kremlin in several years.
Ivanov — who served with Putin in the Soviet-era KGB spy agency — was replaced by his deputy Anton Vaino.
Many observers had considered Ivanov a leading candidate to take over from Putin as president when his second term ended in 2008.
But the Kremlin strongman handed over the top job to current Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev before reclaiming it in 2012.
The Kremlin said in a statement that Putin had “decreed to relieve Ivanov of his duties” and handed him a job as a special representative for conservation, environmental and transportation issues.
Russian state-media quickly aired footage of Putin thanking a smiling Ivanov for his work and presenting the move as a mutual decision.
“I remember well our agreement about the fact you had asked not to be in this area of work as the head of the presidential administration for more than four years,” Putin said at the meeting with Ivanov and his successor.
“This is why I am sympathetic to your desire to move on to another field.”
Ivanov, a reputed hawk who served as defence minister from 2001 to 2007, was appointed Kremlin chief of staff in late 2011, months ahead of Putin’s 2012 re-election.