Mon. May 27th, 2024

For anybody questioning how Russia would possibly change after this weekend’s aborted putsch, it might be price keeping track of Viktor Zolotov, the longtime bodyguard of President Vladimir Putin, who emerged on Tuesday as one of many few obvious winners within the regime’s near-death expertise.

A sometimes gray and sullen determine within the Kremlin retinue, Zolotov, who heads the Russian Nationwide Guard, stepped out of Putin’s shadow on Tuesday to assert credit score for defending Moscow from the Wagner Group, the non-public military that marched throughout Russia this weekend. After assembly with Putin on Monday and Tuesday, Zolotov described how his department of the armed forces, with over 300,000 personnel, stood to realize from the revolt. His troops would quickly obtain an arsenal of superior weaponry, he mentioned, together with tanks, to protect in opposition to comparable threats to Putin’s rule.

It stays to be seen whether or not any of the Kremlin’s clans can acquire from the Wagner Group’s revolt. Its chief, Evgeny Prigozhin, has reportedly gone into exile, his mercenaries ordered to disband. His rivals within the Russian navy have been humiliated by the fiasco, whereas Putin has struggled to save lots of face and regain his grip on energy. However Zolotov, the consummate loyalist, seems to be taking a victory lap and publicly angling for benefit.

It could be inside his attain. In a speech on the Kremlin on Tuesday, Putin thanked the forces beneath Zolotov’s command for defending the capital alongside the police and different safety forces. “You saved the Motherland from turmoil, and successfully stopped a civil warfare,” Putin instructed a gathering of troops and officers, together with Zolotov and different senior commanders.

All of them, from the protection minister to the nation’s high spies, have stored silent in the previous few days, showing meek and exhausted in a gathering with Putin on Monday. The one one sporting a navy uniform at that assembly was Zolotov, who has since develop into essentially the most outspoken of Russia’s high brass. On Tuesday, he was the primary senior official responsible the mutiny on the U.S. and its European allies, providing a well-known canard for the state propaganda channels to unfold: “The revolt,” Zolotov instructed them, “was impressed by the West.”

Amongst Putin’s henchmen, Zolotov’s background stands in sharp distinction to that of Prigozhin, the brash mutineer who ordered his males to advance on Moscow over the weekend. A convicted mugger and former scorching canine vendor, Prigozhin wormed his manner into Putin’s circle by means of a collection of enterprise offers and a willingness to do the state’s soiled work all over the world, whether or not by interfering in American elections or propping up dictators in Africa and the Center East. Zolotov, a creature of the system and a basic of the Russian military, has spent most of his profession inside the Kremlin partitions, beginning as a bodyguard to President Boris Yeltsin in 1991 and persevering with in that position beneath Putin.

Vladimir Putin speaks Viktor Zolotov throughout their assembly in Moscow, on Aug. 30, 2022.

Mikhail Klimentyev—Sputnik/AFP/Getty Photographs

He first got here to public prominence in Russia in 2016, when Putin created the Russian Nationwide Guard and appointed Zolotov as its commander. The drive, which solutions on to Putin, was designed to place down standard uprisings and inside threats to the regime, a process that Zolotov embraced with gusto. In considered one of his uncommon public appearances in 2018, he threatened to pound Russia’s most distinguished dissident, Alexei Navalny, right into a “juicy slab of meat.”

In the course of the Russian invasion of Ukraine final yr, Zolotov’s forces largely performed an auxiliary position, citing the rear behind elite commandos and airborne troops tasked with the conquest of Kyiv. When that mission failed, Zolotov didn’t get almost as a lot of the blame because the spy chiefs and generals who deliberate and executed the invasion. Putin continued to reward the Russian Nationwide Guard at the same time as the remainder of his navy started its retreat from the Kyiv area. “The entire nation is happy with everybody considered one of you,” Putin instructed them on the finish of March 2022, marking a nationwide vacation celebrated in honor of Zolotov’s forces.

Since that point, lots of Russia’s high generals and spy chiefs have been at one another’s throats, struggling to regain momentum within the warfare and to skirt accountability for Russia’s catastrophic losses on the battlefield. Certainly one of these feuds resulted in Prigozhin’s mutiny over the weekend, and it ended badly each for him and his rivals inside the Russian navy.

However for Zolotov, it seems like a chance, and an indication of the path that Russia would possibly take. Threatened in Moscow and pissed off in Ukraine, Putin might fall again on the person who has been by his aspect from the start, the one accountable for staving off inside threats to the regime. For Putin, which may seem to be a logical transfer as he steps again from the brink of a civil warfare. For the remainder of the Russian elite, it might herald the start of a purge, one which Zolotov can be very happy to conduct with the forces beneath his command.

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