When Vladimir Putin recently changed his chief of staff replacing an old KGB colleague, Sergei Ivanov, with "a younger, little known bureaucrat" it marked a shift in Moscow's opaque ruling elite, says The New Yorker. But although most Russians had never heard of Anton Vaino, 44, he wasn't a surprising choice. The former diplomat has been "a member of the Putin clan for years", often playing "the role of the president's personal assistant". Like most of those close to Putin, Vaino "has left few traces in the public space". But he has written several articles and a book. "These are bizarre" and, now that their author is one of the most powerful men in Russia, rather "frightening".
Back in 2012, one AE Vaino (widely assumed to be the new chief of staff) published an obscure article called The Capitalisation of the Future, which outlined new ways of organising and understanding the economy and society, notes the BBC's Russian Service. Although the "dense academic prose" and accompanying diagrams are almost impossible to understand, the gist is that the current system has become "too complex to manage by traditional means" and that a revolutionary change is needed. Vaino's solution is to set policy using a new device called a "nooscope" a gizmo apparently able to detect changes in human activity by tapping into "global consciousness" (aka, the "noosphere"). A co-author describes it as "a device that scans transactions between people, things and money", of parallel significance to the microscope.
Unsurprisingly, most Russian economists are sceptical although, as one remarks, it chimes nicely with the kind of "all-embracing system" Putin uses to assert control. It also fits with Vaino's own hardliner background. Born in Estonia, he moved with his family to Russia aged 16 in 1988 when his grandfather the country's pro-Russian Communist Party chief was effectively kicked out, says the news agency Vestnik Kavkaza. Young Anton gained a masters in economics before graduating from the Moscow State Institute of International Relations in 1996 and taking up a diplomatic post in Japan. Returning to Russia in 2002, he rose through the Kremlin ranks to become deputy chief of staff in 2012.
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State-backed Russian news sources tend to mock Western stories about the nooscope. "The resurgence of Cold War style McCarthyism and anti-Russian propaganda has finally shifted from the insulting to the downright comical," says Sputnik News. Clearly, good films must be thin on the ground if the "sci-fi thriller of the summer" is "Vladimir Putin's secret mind-melting weapon". Well, maybe. But those who dismiss Vaino's hypothesising as mere eccentricity should consider a book he co-authored in 2012, says The New Yorker. In The Image of Victory, Vaino "appears to offer nothing less than a recipe for global domination", based on sambo the martial art in which Putin excelled before he took up judo. The principle Vaino rates most highly is "striking when the opponent least expects it". Given ratcheting tensions in Ukraine, that should worry everyone.
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