Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday appointed a low-profile former diplomat to be his new Kremlin chief of staff, one of the most powerful jobs in Russia, saying his long-time ally, Sergei Ivanov, had asked to step down.
"Russian President Vladimir Putin has decreed to relieve Ivanov of his duties as head of the Russian presidential administration," the statement said, adding that Ivanov would now serve as a special representative for conservation, environmental and transportation issues.
The move represents the highest-level demotion inside the Kremlin in several years. The switch, made at a time when Russia is grinding its way through a prolonged economic crisis, comes just over a month before nationwide parliamentary elections and follows a reshuffle of regional leaders last month.
Ivanov, who served together with Putin in the Soviet-era KGB spy agency, was appointed Kremlin chief of staff in late 2011, months ahead of Putin's 2012 re-election.
Putin named Anton Vaino, 44, to the important post, which involves drafting laws for the president to submit to parliament, monitoring their enforcement, and conducting an analysis of domestic and foreign affairs for the president.
Vaino used to work in the Russian Embassy in Japan, and had worked as deputy head of the Kremlin administration since 2012. He is not a household name in Russia unlike Ivanov, who was once spoken of as a possible presidential contender.
"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 in a meeting with Ivanov and Vaino broadcast on state television.
"This is why I am sympathetic to your desire to move on to another field of work."
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.