For anybody questioning how Russia may 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 say 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 achieve from the rebel. His troops would quickly obtain an arsenal of superior weaponry, he stated, together with tanks, to protect towards 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 rebel. Its chief, Evgeny Prigozhin, has reportedly gone into exile, his mercenaries ordered to disband. His rivals within the Russian army have been humiliated by the fiasco, whereas Putin has struggled to avoid wasting face and regain his grip on power. However Zolotov, the consummate loyalist, seems to be taking a victory lap and publicly angling for benefit.
It may be inside his attain. In a speech on the Kremlin on Tuesday, Putin thanked the forces below 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 battle,” Putin told 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 meeting with Putin on Monday. The one one sporting a army 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 accountable the mutiny on the U.S. and its European allies, providing a well-recognized canard for the state propaganda channels to unfold: “The rebel,” Zolotov told 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 method into Putin’s circle by means of a collection of enterprise offers and a willingness to do the state’s soiled work world wide, 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 normal 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 function below Putin.
Vladimir Putin speaks Viktor Zolotov throughout their assembly in Moscow, on Aug. 30, 2022.
Mikhail Klimentyev—Sputnik/AFP/Getty Photos
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 pressure, which solutions on to Putin, was designed to place down in style uprisings and inside threats to the regime, a process that Zolotov embraced with gusto. In one in all his rare public appearances in 2018, he threatened to pound Russia’s most outstanding dissident, Alexei Navalny, right into a “juicy slab of meat.”
Throughout the Russian invasion of Ukraine final 12 months, Zolotov’s forces largely performed an auxiliary function, bringing up the rear behind elite commandos and airborne troops tasked with the conquest of Kyiv. When that mission failed, Zolotov didn’t get practically 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 whilst the remainder of his army started its retreat from the Kyiv area. “The entire nation is pleased with everybody one in all you,” Putin instructed them on the finish of March 2022, marking a nationwide vacation celebrated in honor of Zolotov’s forces.
Since that point, a lot of Russia’s high generals and spy chiefs have been at one another’s throats, struggling to regain momentum within the battle 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 army.
However for Zolotov, it appears to be like like a possibility, and an indication of the course that Russia may 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, that may seem to be a logical transfer as he steps again from the brink of a civil battle. 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 below his command.
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