Putin’s bodyguard promoted to advisory council as reshuffle continues

Alexei Dyumin is another member of the Russian military intelligence establishment in Vladimir Putin's inner circle
Alexei Dyumin is another member of the Russian military intelligence establishment in Vladimir Putin's inner circle - Sputnik/Gavriil Grigorov/Reuters
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Vladimir Putin appointed one of his former bodyguards to the role of secretary of Russia’s advisory state council in the latest of a series of reshuffles, fuelling speculation about the Kremlin’s succession plans.

Alexei Dyumin, who guarded Putin in his first two terms and previously ran the Tula Oblast, was named secretary of the state council in a presidential decree published on Wednesday.

The move comes after the firing of Sergei Shoigu, defence minister, and ultra-hawk Nikolai Patrushev, both architects of the botched invasion of Ukraine.

Mr Dyumin 51, has long been seen as a rising star in Mr Putin’s entourage.

He joined the federal guards service, which is responsible for the security of the president and other top officials, in 1995.

He served as one of Putin’s personal bodyguards in the 2000s, by his own account presenting the president with morning briefings and occasionally transmitting instructions from Putin to ministers or regional governors.

By 2014 he was deputy head of the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence agency, and is thought to have been involved in the annexation of Crimea that year.

Alexei Dyumin meets with Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin with ruler of the Tula Oblast
Alexei Dyumin meets with Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin with ruler of the Tula Oblast - via REUTERS/Gavriil Grigorov

He subsequently served as a deputy defence minister before being appointed governor of Tula, a region south of Moscow that plays an important role in the Russian defence industry.

He was recalled from Tula to the presidential administration in Moscow, where he was made an advisor on military-industrial matters, earlier this month.

He is sanctioned by both the United States and Britain for his role in the annexation of Crimea and the current war in Ukraine.

He is one of several trusted former bodyguards Putin has promoted to positions of power, but almost unique in making a success of it.

“But of all the bodyguards and spooks who have been made regional governors, he was the only one who could hack it,” said Mark Galeotti, a long-time Kremlin watcher.

“He was actually quite a good governor in Tula, and unlike most other ex spooks he was able to deal with the technocrats quite well. He built a good working relationship with Sergei Sobyanin, the Mayor of Moscow, for example.”

The state council is an advisory body chaired by Putin. Its role was formalised in 2020 but has long been moribund and it is not clear how much power Mr Dyumin will wield as its secretary.

His predecessor, 72-year-old Igor Levitin, was considered a relatively obscure figure.

Alexei Dyumin was Vladimir Putin's bodyguard before becoming an administrator
Alexei Dyumin was Vladimir Putin's bodyguard before becoming an administrator - SERGEI CHIRIKOV/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

“It’s the kind of appointment that might prove significant in retrospect,” cautioned Mr Gaelotti.

Putin has made a series of senior personnel changes in recent weeks.

Earlier this month Mr Shoigu, the long-serving defence minister, was fired and moved to secretary of the security council.

He was replaced by Andrei Belousov, a career economist and political adviser.

Mr Patrushev, the former head of the security council and a key advocate of the Ukraine invasion, was made a presidential aide in charge of shipbuilding, an apparent demotion.

Mr Shoigu is not entirely sidelined – he accompanied Putin on a key trip to China this month – a number of generals who rose to senior positions in the ministry during Shoigu’s tenure have been arrested and charged with corruption, in what appears to be a purge of his power base.

Speculation about Putin’s possible successor has swirled for years, although the matter is seldom discussed in public.

Putin, 71, has been careful to avoid openly anointing a successor in case that person becomes too powerful.

But he is widely expected to rule for life, and he has gathered so much authority into his own hands that his sudden death would create a potentially dangerous power vacuum.

Unofficial succession

During his second term as president he tolerated an unofficial public race for the succession between Dmitry Medvedev, at the time seen as a moderate liberaliser, and Sergei Ivanov, a hawkish former KGB officer who served as defence minister.

When Putin eventually selected Mr Medvedev to replace him as president in 2008, many Kremlinologists speculated that he had been alarmed by how quickly parts of the establishment had gravitated to Mr Ivanov, making him a potential rival rather than a protege.

Tellingly, neither of those two former favourites are considered possible successors today.

Mr Ivanov is Putin’s environment envoy and retains a seat on the Russian security council but has effectively retired from public life, apparently grief stricken by the sudden death of his son in 2014.

Mr Medvedev has a sinecure as deputy chairman of the security council and has reinvented himself as a wildly hawkish commentator on the war in Ukraine, but is believed to have minimal influence on policy.

Other names occasionally mentioned as possible successors include Mr Shoigu, who has managed to remain at the top of the Russian government for more than three decades, Mr Sobyanin, who has proved himself as a competent administrator in Moscow, and Ramzan Kadyrov, the head of Chechnya.

Mr Patrushev’s son Dmitry, who was recently promoted from agriculture minister to deputy prime minister, is also considered of interest by Kremlinologists.

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