President Vladimir Putin has demoted the Kremlin's chief of staff in a dramatic shake-up of Russia's leadership.
Sergei Ivanov, a former KGB officer, was abruptly removed from the post and made special presidential envoy for conservation, environment and transport.
In a televised meeting yesterday (Friday), Mr Putin told him: "We have worked for many years together with great success." Mr Ivanov replied: "Thank you for your high assessment of my work over the past 17 years," referring to his service in government since Mr Putin first became prime minister in 1999.
Mr Ivanov added that his four years and eight months as head of the presidential administration made him the longest serving Kremlin chief of staff since the break-up of the Soviet Union. Mr Putin appointed Mr Ivanov's little known deputy, Anton Vaino, as his successor. The reasons for his removal are unclear. Russia's official explanation was that he asked to be moved because he had been too long in the role.
Mr Ivanov has known Mr Putin since they served in the KGB. Among other roles, Mr Ivanov was defence minister between 2001 and 2007.
A career intelligence officer who speaks English and Swedish, Mr Ivanov was considered one of the most powerful individuals in Russia. He was once viewed as a possible successor to Mr Putin. Mr Ivanov was seen as a leader of the hawkishly anti-Western camp of former spies who have come to dominate Kremlin policy-making.
The members of this clique who remain in office include Nikolai Patrushev, the secretary of the security council, and Alexander Bortnikov, the director of the FSB, the successor to the KGB. They are believed to have enjoined Mr Putin to make the vital decision to seize Crimea from Ukraine in 2014. Mr Ivanov also has a reputation as an environmental activist. He is credited with making possible the creation of a national park in the Russian Far East that has helped to save the Amur leopard.
u?Russia revealed yesterday that S-400 air defence missiles had arrived in occupied Crimea. The deployment of the weapons was announced last month, but the latest disclosure appears designed to escalate tensions with Ukraine, after the alleged deaths of two Russian servicemen last weekend. The missiles are expected to be used in military exercises in Crimea and the Black Sea.