Profile: Sergei Ivanov

First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Borisovich Ivanov was born January 31, 1953 in Leningrad (St. Petersburg). He currently holds the rank of Lieutenant-General, retired, and is fluent in both English and Swedish. He is married with two sons.

Ivanov was raised by his mother, an engineer. His father died when he was a toddler. “My idols were the Beatles,” recalled Ivanov, who is also a Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin fan. “And my interest in studying English was due to my fascination with their songs.”

Ivanov spent several weeks in London studying English as an exchange student in the 1970s at the age of 20. He later became a fan of John le Carré, Agatha Christie, Frederick Forsyth and malt whisky. Fishing is also mentioned as one of his hobbies. Ivanov also took up judo much like President Putin and became a black belt and was a keen sportsman, playing basketball for St Petersburg’s top team. He is said to like red wine and vodka and is a chain smoker, although photographers are cautioned not to take his picture when he has a cigarette in his mouth.

Looked upon as one of the most likely successors to President Putin, Sergei Ivanov is three months younger than Vladimir Putin, He has much in common with the President. Both are from St. Petersburg and served in the KGB. Both men went to specialized schools, Putin in chemistry and Ivanov in English language. Their paths seem to continue in parallel as they both moved on to the Higher KGB School in Minsk.

Ivanov says that it wasn’t until they were both assigned afterward to work in the same KGB division in Leningrad that they became acquainted. He received the Rank II Order For Services to the Fatherland (2003). While Putin worked for five years in East Germany, Ivanov held postings as an intelligence officer in Scandinavia and Africa.

Recently, Ivanov was responsible for liaising with foreign security services and counter intelligence. His November 2005 appointment as Deputy Prime Minister made him second in line to the presidency after Dmitry Medvedev. He was given a promotion by President Putin to First Deputy Prime Minister in February which made him Medvedev’s coequal.

It also removed him from the much criticized Defense Ministry. This move increases the chance that Ivanov will become Putin's successor.

Mr. Ivanov has been given special responsibility for science and technology as well as the military-industrial complex. Already, scientists have noted big increases in their salaries.

Another interesting side note is that Ivanov was instrumental in Putin’s decision to bring back Soviet–era military symbols and caused alarm in the West when he threatened air strikes against Georgia, the tiny former Soviet state, which he accused of harboring Chechen militants.

Mr. Ivanov was questioned regarding his presidential ambitions at a recent conference. With a cold, hard stare he demanded that the questioner translate the question from English to Russian. "I'm sorry, I have an iron rule," he said in fluent English, "in Russia I only speak in Russian." He has repeatedly denied any ambitions for the Kremlin's top job. "That matter does not interest me," he said in 2005. "The president has entrusted to me the difficult task of modernizing the armed forces."

On another occasion when questioned by ITAR-TASS about the possibility of becoming President of the Russian Federation, Ivanov answered, "Even if I did not redden from your question…a hundred times I have already answered that I have occupied this critical post (first vice- premier) a total of only several months in the management of the country. I am only thinking about how it is possible to maximally and more effectively contribute to the expansion of science and technology.”

As opposed to Mr. Medvedev’s modernist approach, Mr. Ivanov is considered more of a traditionalist. According to the latest polls, his approval rating is higher than that of his closest rival, Dmitry Medvedev, in the race to succeed Putin, who is due to step down in March at the end of his second term.

Valentina Matviyenko, the governor of St Petersburg and a Putin protegé, lavished praise on Ivanov, comparing him to Peter the Great. Interesting comment indeed. The coming months until the next election will prove to be quite interesting.




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Author`s name Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey