His Inner Circle
Russian President Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin launched a military operation in Ukraine on February 24, 2022. However, defence experts believe that the Strongman did not make a final decision, solely, in this regard. They are of the opinion that as many as nine persons, close to the Russian President, played an important role in planning the attack.
As Supreme Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Forces, President Putin is naturally responsible for triggering the war against Ukraine. As expected, anti-war activists have called him an authoritarian ruler. However, his Defence Minister Sergei Kuzhugetovich Shoigu (b. May 21, 1955) also played a key role in planning the offensive. Security Expert Andrei Alekseyevich Soldatov is of the opinion that Shoigu is one of the confidantes President Putin is most likely to listen to. “Shoigu is not only in charge of the military, he’s also partly in charge of ideology, and in Russia, ideology is mostly about history and he’s in control of the narrative,” stressed Soldatov. Shoigu was, once, considered the most suitable candidate for the Presidency after Putin. He is very close to the President, as the two have often been seen fishing in Siberia. Shoigu had played an important role in the 2014 Crimean War, as well.
Valery Vasilyevich Gerasimov (b. September 8, 1955) – the General of the Russian Army, the Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, and the first Deputy Defence Minister – is another confidante of President Putin, and he, too, has planned the attack on the neighbouring country. Gerasimov reportedly overseen a joint military exercise in Belarus in February 2022. He, too, had played a key role in the Crimean War. Meanwhile, the British media have claimed that President Putin is not happy with Gerasimov because of the pace at which the Ukraine war has been progressing.
Nikolai Platonovich Patrushev (b. July 11, 1951) – the former Director of the Federal Security Service (FSB) and the head of Russia’s Security Council – too, is a close aide of President Putin. They have been working together since the 1970s, as Patrushev was, once, the head of the KGB. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, he was in charge of the FSB (from 1999 to 2008). Dr Ben Noble, an Assistant Professor at University College London and an expert on Russian Politics, believes that Patrushev is the most intelligent adviser of President Putin. He has stated: “What we can say with a fair degree of confidence is that these men share a world view in which Russia needs to be a fortress to protect itself from what they see as a long-standing, sustained and aggressive attack by what they call the consolidated West.”
After Patrushev, Alexander Vasilyevich Bortnikov (b. November 15, 1951) had taken charge of the FSB. The Government of Russia deployed special forces to protect him, as Bortnikov launched a campaign against the Russian Civil Society in 2021. He has been accused of making arbitrary arrests and detentions to silence Anti-Government protesters. Bortnikov, known to be very close to President Putin, enjoys all sorts of power. In 2017, he reportedly said that the Stalinist purges of the 1930s had “an objective side”. Dr Noble has stressed: “We cannot say with certainty whose decision is being implemented in Russia.”
Sergey Yevgenyevich Naryshkin (b. October 27, 1954) has been serving as the Director of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) since 2016. Although he used to be a close confidante of President Putin, their relationship has turned sour in recent times. As seen in a video surfaced in January 2022, Putin was instructing Naryshkin to speak “clearly“. According to sources close to the Kremlin, the President wanted to know whether Naryshkin backed his decision to grant the Ukrainian territories, occupied by separatist groups, the status of separate states. However, Soldatov thinks that President was simply enjoying the moment. “Putin loves playing games with his inner circle, making him (Naryshkin) look a fool,” stressed the security expert.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Viktorovich Lavrov (b. March 21, 1950) is the oldest and most seasoned diplomat of his country. However, according to many, the 71-year-old Lavrov has been side-lined, as far as Russia’s war against Ukraine is concerned. Although the Foreign Minister was against the invasion, he has argued in favour of Russia’s action at the UN Security Council.
Yuri Kovalchuk (b. July 25, 1951) first met President Putin when he was the Deputy Mayor of St Petersburg, in the 1990s. Often referred to as Putin’s banker, the Russian businessman has been slapped with sanctions by the EU, the US, Canada and Switzerland. Earlier in 2014, the US Treasury Department and the EU had imposed sanctions on him immediately after Russia annexed Crimea.
Former Culture Minister of Russia Vladimir Medinsky is one of the presidential aides of Putin. Currently, he is acting as the primary negotiator in the Ukrainian war. It may be noted that Medinsky was accused of plagiarism in 2017, and the Academic Council decided to revoke his Doctorate. However, a State Agency cleared him of all charges.
As per media rereports, Anton Eduardovich Vaino (b. February 17, 1972) – the Chief of Staff of the Presidential Executive Office – has played an active role in decision-making process regarding the ongoing conflict. He is one of those Russian officials who have been sanctioned by the EU. He has allegedly indulged in actions and policies that could jeopardise Ukraine’s sovereignty and independence.
Hence, it can be conjectured that the Russian President is surrounded by a deeply loyal entourage, with his inner circle being largely made up of security and military advisers. However, President Putin always keeps them on their toes. “If they didn’t come up with the right answer, they would be challenged by Putin. So, it was demonstrating, both domestically and internationally, that the president is in charge at the same time as making everyone else appear to suggest recognition autonomously and thereby becoming complicit in the decision,” insisted Dr Noble.
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