Three key members of Putin’s inner circle that could oust him – hammer to the head

Ukrainian forces appear to strike Russian forces in Kharkiv Oblast

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As the war in Ukraine wages on, President Putin has been careful in narrowing down his inner circle to only his most trusted advisors and confidantes. But one former CIA member has said even this may not be enough to stop an eventual removal from the Kremlin.

Daniel Hoffman, a former CIA Moscow chief of station, had believed Putin could be in line for a “hammer to the head” from some of top rank – and listed Nikolai Patrushev, Alexander Bortnikov and Sergei Shoigu as the top picks.

Previous Russian administrations have ended promptly in coups – Nikita Khrushchev was ousted, as was Mikhail Gorbachev.

Mr Hoffman said: “Nobody’s gonna ask, ‘Hey Vladimir, would you like to leave?’ No. It’s a f**** hammer to the head and he’s dead. Or it’s time to go to the sanatorium.”

But who are President Putin’s supposed allies that could eventually see him out of office?

Nikolai Patrushev – Head of the Russian security council

There are few in President Putin’s inner circle who have much influence as Nikolai Patrushev.

Head of Russia’s security council, Mr Patrushev has worked with President Putin since his KGB days and succeeded him as head of its post-Soviet Union iteration, the Federal Security Service, from 1999 to 2008.

Now, he plays an informal role of national security advisor and is certain to have been a key member of planning and signing off Russia’s latest war.

 The two have a similar worldview, with both viewing the west as a threat to Russia’s existence.

Just days before Russia began its invasion, Mr Patrushev claimed it was the USA’s “concrete goal” to break up Russia.

Mr Patrushev has long been a notorious figure in western eyes, having also been accused of approving assassinations on behalf of the Russian state and other illegal operations.

A public inquiry into the assassination of Alexander Litvinenko found his murder was allegedly approved by none other than Mr Patrushev.

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Alexander Bortnikov – Director of the FSB

Alexander Bortnikov is the current director of the FSB, the successor to the Soviet spy agency, the KGB.

The FSB has long held a tough grip on domestic life in Russia and has been responsible for further tightening restrictions on everyday life throughout the last decade.

Mr Bortnikov ordered the attempted assassination of opposition party leader Alexei Navalny in 2020 using Novichok.

Sergei Shoigu – Minister of Defence

Sergei Shoigu is one of the most powerful figures in the Putin administration, with the job of overseeing Russia’s military and its intelligence agencies.

Since being appointed to the Defence Ministry in 2012, he has presided over Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea and deadly actions in Syria.

While little is known about Mr Shoigu, he is reportedly a personal friend of the President, and it has been said they often enjoy hunting and shooting expeditions together.

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