Vladimir Putins inner circle: The four most powerful people in Russia after Putin

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Ranked second most powerful individual in the world by Forbes, Russian President Vladimir Putin bears phenomenal influence on the east and western politics and security – and with a powerful person comes powerful associates. Mr Putin has a close circle of officials that have his ear, but who are they?

As Russia pursues its attack on Ukraine, launched amid security concerns around Ukraine’s NATO membership ambitions, it is thought the Russian president has a number of officials bearing vast impact on his actions.

In the last year, these powerful men are said to have staked even more reactionary positions than their president has, signalling a sign of the “harder-line turn” that the Kremlin is taking, as it steps up its fight with perceived threats at home and abroad.

But who are Russia’s most powerful people behind Mr Putin?

Nikolai Patrushev

Considered the most powerful of all is Nikolai Patrushev, who has been secretary of the security council of Russia since 2008, a consultative body that works out the president’s decisions on national security affairs.

Prior to this, he served as director of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), the main successor agency to the Soviet KGB, from 1999 to 2008.

Mr Patrushev is a close associate of Mr Putin and is among his most trusted representatives, having formed close ties with the president during their former years as KGB officers.

During his years leading the FSB, Patrushev positioned the agency as one of the main punitive bodies of the Putin regime. Its officers, according to the Free Russia Forum Database, helped Putin concentrate power and destroy political competition in the country.

The body continues to carry out political persecution of dissidents, opposition and civil activists.

Mr Patrushev is at the heart of political discussions and decisions, and as he is known for exercising significant anti-western trope – possibly even more so than Mr Putin – he could be deemed a particularly antagonising individual to have around.

Mr Patrushev is known as one of three “Putin loyalists” who have served with him ever since the 1970s in St Petersburg. The remaining two include security service chief Alexander Bortnikov and foreign intelligence head Sergei Naryshkin.

Alexander Bortnikov

Alexander Bortnikov, current director of the FSB, third “Putin loyalist” is said to be another one of Mr Putin’s most trusted sources.

The FSB has considerable influence over other law enforcement services in Russia – even possessing its own special forces.

Bortnikov operates a significant hold on Russian life, having been responsible for the dramatic tightening of restrictions on civil society – which has gathered pace over the past year.

However, despite his key responsibility revolving around defining domestic affairs for the most part, it’s been said that Bortnikov may also fuel anti-Western sentiment around the president.

Tatiana Stanovaya, a security expert and founder of political think-tank R Politik said: “We can imagine that he [Bortnikov] delivers to Putin on an everyday basis reports about hostile American influence or Western influence inside of Russia, and how Western secret services are trying to undermine political stability.”

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Sergei Naryshkin

Russian politician and businessman, Sergei Naryshkin, has served as the director of the foreign intelligence service (SVR) in Russia since 2016.

The SVR has been described as the current incarnation of the all-powerful, most extensive espionage agency, FSB.

Mr Narushkin also heads the Russian Historical Society and, in Russian investigative journalist Andrei Soldatov’s view, has proved very important in providing the president with ideological grounds for his actions.

Sergei Shoigu

Sergei Shoigu is Russia’s current defence minister and a close associate of Putin.

Mr Shoigu, 64, has been ranked as the country’s greatest military leader after World War Two General Georgy Zhukov.

Despite having no previous military experience, Mr Shoigu took over as minister of defence in 2012, overseeing the overhaul and modernisation of Russia’s military.

Mr Shoigu has also been instrumental in organising the invasion of Ukraine, and is believed to be the most influential voice the president hears – despite perceived resistance on camera as Mr Putin announced the launch of his nuclear deterrent plans.

Russian security expert and writer Andrei Soldatov said: “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.”

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