The inner circle of Vladimir Putin’s closest and most trusted advisers

Vladimir Putin meeting with his Security Council, which includes many of his most trusted advisers - Kremlin pool photo via AP
Vladimir Putin meeting with his Security Council, which includes many of his most trusted advisers - Kremlin pool photo via AP

Not many people are allowed to get close to Vladimir Putin. The Russian president, who seems to be increasingly deranged in his Kremlin bunker, relies on just a few close advisers whose loyalty stretches back decades.

In command of the most significant military and espionage organisations in Russia, these are the men who advise Putin on the nation’s war in Ukraine.

Nikolai Patrushev, Alexander Bortnikov and Sergei Naryshkin form the trio of Leningrad KGB alumni who continue to act as close advisers to the president.

Mr Patrushev is the secretary of the Security Council. He and Putin were born in Leningrad 15 months apart and the two have worked together since the 1970s. In 1999, he was promoted to the head of the FSB security service.

In an interview with Kommersant in 2015, he showed a deep mistrust of the US. He said that “they would very much like Russia not to exist at all” and that “the USA is trying to dominate the world”.

Nikolai Patrushev - Alexei Nikolsky/TASS via Getty Images
Nikolai Patrushev - Alexei Nikolsky/TASS via Getty Images

Mr Bortnikov is a “Patrushev protege” who took over as the head of the FSB in 2008. He too shares his predecessor’s Western paranoia. In an interview with Rossiyskaya Gazeta in 2017, he said that “the destruction of Russia is still an obsession for many”.

In the same interview, Mr Bortnikov publicly defended the behaviour of the secret police during the purges of the 1930s, saying: “Archive materials show a significant number of criminal cases were based on factual evidence.”

The third member of Putin’s class of ex-KGB aides is Mr Naryshkin, who is the director of the Foreign Intelligence Service. However, his primacy among Kremlin aides has been called into question after his awkward and stuttering performance in the televised Russia Security Council meeting.

Sergei Naryshkin, director of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service - Alexei Nikolsky/TASS via Getty Images
Sergei Naryshkin, director of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service - Alexei Nikolsky/TASS via Getty Images

The outspoken and often derogatory Sergei Lavrov is the Western face of Russia’s war on Ukraine. Known for publicly dressing down foreign dignitaries - most recently criticising Liz Truss for being “deaf” and “unprepared” on her visit to Moscow - the foreign minister apparently wields little influence over the Russian leader.

Sergei Lavrov, Russia's foreign minister - Russian Foreign Ministry
Sergei Lavrov, Russia's foreign minister - Russian Foreign Ministry

However, Sergei Shoigu, the defence minister, continues to be instrumental in the Kremlin. A close friend who goes on hunting and fishing trips with the president, Mr Shoigu was by Putin’s side during the annexation of Crimea and the Russian intervention in Syria.

In 2019, he gave a rare interview in which he maintained that the West had “patterns and algorithms for overthrowing any legal authority inconvenient for them in any country”.

As chief of staff for the Russian armed forces, the highly decorated Valery Gerasimov will oversee the military operation in Ukraine. Putin’s top general has been on the EU sanction list since 2014, because of his role in the annexation of Crimea.

Sergei Shoigu, right, and Valery Gerasimov - Alexei Nikolsky/Kremlin pool photo/Shutterstock
Sergei Shoigu, right, and Valery Gerasimov - Alexei Nikolsky/Kremlin pool photo/Shutterstock

Another key military figure is Viktor Zolotov, the director of Russia’s National Guard. He met Putin in St Petersburg in the 1990s and was once arguably the man closest to the Russian president, as his personal bodyguard. In 2018, he said he would "make a juicy beefsteak out of" Alexei Navalny after comments the opposition leader made about corruption in the National Guard.