MOSCOW • Russian President Vladimir Putin yesterday unexpectedly dismissed his close ally and powerful chief of staff Sergei Ivanov, the Kremlin said in a statement.
"Russian President Vladimir Putin has decreed to relieve Ivanov of his duties as head of the Russian presidential administration," the statement said, adding that Mr 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.
Mr Ivanov, who served together with Mr Putin in the Soviet-era KGB spy agency, was appointed Kremlin chief of staff in late 2011, months ahead of Mr Putin's 2012 re-election.
The former defence minister, 63, has been replaced by Mr Anton Vaino, a 44-year-old ex-diplomat who had served as Mr Ivanov's deputy since 2012.
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.
"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," Mr Putin said in a meeting with Mr Ivanov and Mr 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 Mr Ivanov a leading candidate to take over from Mr 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.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS