The order by President Dmitry Medvedev to make Vladislav Surkov a deputy prime minister in charge of economic modernization was variously interpreted as a sign that leaders recognize the need for significant reform and as a cosmetic move with little meaning.
Allegations of fraud in the Dec. 4 national parliamentary election sparked a wave of protests unprecedented in post-Soviet Russia, including two vast rallies in Moscow that attracted tens of thousands. Putin, who was president in 2000-2008, seeks to return to the Kremlin in elections in March, and the protests have undermined his image as the inevitable winner.
Putin and Medvedev have sought to dilute the protests by rolling out a set of proposed political reforms, but have firmly resisted the protest leaders’ main demand that the parliament elections be annulled and rerun. Opposition forces also say the proposed reforms are too little and too late.