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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

New Job for Chechnya Spokesman

Veteran Kremlin spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembsky on Monday was named the head of a newly formed information department within the presidential administration, the Kremlin press service announced.

The department was created by presidential decree and will be responsible for "improving the administration's information policies," the duty press officer said, declining to elaborate.

Since January 2000, Yastrzhembsky has had the unenviable task of acting as the Kremlin's mouthpiece on the war in Chechnya.

Last week, the Kommersant newspaper quoted unnamed Kremlin sources as saying the point of the new department was largely to provide a new job for the seasoned public relations official, who'd grown weary of focusing on Chechnya coverage.

Kommersant's sources said Yastrzhembsky's job would be to "help informational cooperation with the federal ministries," but the paper speculated he may strive to regain his status as the Kremlin's mouthpiece.

Yastrzhembsky had been the long-standing press secretary for former President Boris Yeltsin, before becoming one of the first officials to abandon the Kremlin in 1998 and side with Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov in the latter's bid for power. When Luzhkov and his Fatherland-All Russia movement failed in the 1999 State Duma elections, Yastrzhembsky quickly changed sides and emerged as the Kremlin's Chechnya spokesman and the head of its main propaganda tool, Rosinformtsentr.

"He was given the most thankless job: to convince foreign journalists the Kremlin is right when it comes to Chechnya," Sergei Markov, director of the Center for Political Research and foreign editor of the Kremlin-connected Strana.ru web site, said in a telephone interview Monday.

"He was serving in the 'punishment battalion' and now he's been rehabilitated," Markov added.

Yastrzhembsky, who will remain a presidential aide, will be "coordinating" the new department's work, while a department head still has to be named, the Kremlin spokesman said. He added the department would be staffed by former Rosinformtsentr employees.