Putins inner circle and the 3 men who knew about Ukraine invasion

Russian reporter admits Putin forces 'advancing 3cm a day'

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Moscow’s military has suffered major setbacks in recent months, but this has encouraged the Kremlin to double down on its efforts. Only those who work closely with Vladimir Putin have a clear picture of what is motivating his violent streak. Numerous reports have quoted Russian soldiers who say even they didn’t know they were being sent to war. In fact, it has been suggested that just four people, including Putin himself, were aware of the imminent invasion and war.

When the coronavirus panddemic struck, Putin began restricting the number of people who were allowed to be within close proximity of him, essentially introducing what is known as a bunker mentality.

As the Russian President planned his country’s attack on Ukraine he depended on just three other men to help him. They were Nikolai Patrushev, chairman of the Security Council and Putin’s KGB colleague since 1975, Aleksandr Bortnikov, his former Leningrad University classmate-turned FSB (Russian security services) chief, and Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu.

In his new book, ‘Overreach: The Inside Story of Putin and Russia’s War Against Ukraine’, Owen Matthews claims that Patrushev and Bortnikov were the “prime political movers” while Shoigu was a more passive presence. Patrushev and Bortnikov have built a reputation for themselves in Moscow, and have even been touted by experts as potential Putin replacements when he eventually stands down.

One former KGB major-general told the author that Putin “was a grey moth, a nobody. His career in the KGB was completely mediocre”, a stark contrast to Patrushev, who was seen as “one of the [KGB’s] rising stars of the Eighties”.

Patrushev is also known for his ruthless streak. It has been reported that he played an influential role in the killing of defector Alexander Litvinenko in 2006. A UK inquiry into the attack found that “the FSB operation to kill Mr Litvinenko was probably approved by Mr Patrushev and also by President Putin.”

As for Bortnikov, it has been claimed that he gave the order to poison another Putin opponent – Alexei Navalny. Navalny survived the attack but is now in prison on trumped-up charges of fraud, contempt of court and parole violations.

During the pandemic, Putin is said to have developed a “deep belief that Russian domination over Ukraine must be restored”, according to the Kommersant newspaper. CIA director William Burns also said in April: “Putin’s risk appetite has grown as his grip on Russia has tightened.

“His circle of advisers has narrowed and in that small circle it has never been career-enhancing to question his judgment or his almost mystical belief that his destiny is to restore Russia’s sphere of influence.”

In addition to these three, there was another who was likely informed about the imminent invasion. Mr Matthews suggested the Russian President also confided regularly in his friend and ally Yury Kovalchuk, a Russian billionaire who has previously been described as “Putin’s banker”.

A source told the author that Kovalchuk was trusted by Putin to discuss “more mundane matters” relating to his private life and business interests.

In July 2021, Putin published a historical essay which laid out the pretext for why Russia would eventually invade Ukraine. In it, Putin declared that “true sovereignty of Ukraine is possible only in partnership with Russia, also stating that “Russians and Ukrainians were one people – a single whole”, something that is hotly contested and widely regarded as incorrect.

This essay was “entirely [Putin’s] own work’, a state TV executive claimed. Mr Matthews reported that Kovalchuk was by Putin’s side while he wrote the text.

It was around the time that this article was published that a “critical mass” of people within the Kremlin had started clamouring for a “decisive military blow” against Ukraine.

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The Kremlin hasn’t got its wish, however. Despite many experts fearing Russia’s military capability, Putin’s forces were unable to take control of Kyiv in the early days of the invasion, and just a few months later retreated from areas surrounding the capital city, leaving evidence of their war crimes behind.

Since then, the picture hasn’t improved for Russia. Moscow has suffered tens of thousands of casualties and lost more territory near Kharkiv in the northeast of Ukraine. The Russian military has come in for criticism from the country’s state media and even some influential political figures. Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov warned in September that he would have to confront leaders in Moscow if improvements were not made.

Even Russian soldiers themselves have displayed frustration. Just this week, troops lamented an “incomprehensible battle” in Donetsk after suffering heavy losses.

In a letter, men of the 155th Brigade of the Russian Pacific Fleet Marine said: “Once again we were thrown into an incomprehensible battle by General Muradov and his brother-in-law, his countryman Akhmedov, so that Muradov could earn bonuses to make him look good in the eyes of Gerasimov (Russia’s Chief of the General Staff),

“As a result of the ‘carefully’ planned offensive by the ‘great commanders’ we lost about 300 men, dead and wounded, with some MIA (missing in action) over the past four days. “We lost 50 percent of our equipment. That’s our brigade alone. The district command together with Akhmedov are hiding these facts and skewing the official casualty statistics for fear of being held accountable.”

‘Overreach: The Inside Story of Putin and Russia’s War Against Ukraine’ by Owen Matthews is available here from November 10. The book is published by Mudlark. 

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