It’s been five months since Russian forces invaded Ukraine and began their relentless assault on their far-smaller neighbor. The Western press has focused heavily on Russian President Vladimir Putin, who masterminded the invasion over many years and has overseen its execution.
But Putin isn’t working on his own.
He is surrounded by a cabal of equally ruthless lieutenants just as eager to deceive the West with bombast and rhetoric.
These henchmen – and occasional women — are not just wily, they’re extremely well-compensated thanks to their close proximity to Putin’s kleptocratic machine. Long-serving and devoted, the Russian leader owes this creepy crew a perverse debt of gratitude for helping him achieve his horrifying goals.
Here’s a look at the top seven characters in Putin’s orbit of war.
The heir apparent
Nikolai Patrushev, the head of Russia’s Security Council, is Putin’s closest advisor, long-time personal friend, and the Kremlin hawk who could easily take over the reins of Mother Russia — at least temporarily — if Putin were to become incapacitated. Patrushev is highly influential in the Kremlin bureaucracy and is one of the principal architects of the Putin doctrine — which seeks to return former Soviet-era states (like Ukraine) to Russian control.
Patrushev is Putin’s evil twin, with both twins, in this case, being evil. Their relationship dates back to 1975, when they worked together in the KGB. Like his boss, Patrushev — who’s served as a spy operative for 50 years — has likely authorized targeted killings of numerous Russian “enemies.” Among his victims are former FSB officer and vocal Putin critic Alexander Litvinenko, who was poisoned in Britain in 2006, along with Chechen separatist leaders hunted down and killed as part of a counter-terrorism program during the late-1990s.
At 71, Patrushev, like Putin, is a committed athlete who regularly plays volleyball and swims nearly three miles a week. He doesn’t abuse alcohol, which is uncommon for Russian males, favoring the occasional glass of wine over hard liquor. He is a workaholic and never late for meetings. It’s likely Patrushev helped hatch the plan for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine’s Crimea in 2014 and Putin’s attack against the rest of the Ukraine this past February. Patrushev is also a rabid anti-American propagandist who recently accused Washington of running a biological weapons program in Ukraine. Even more outlandish, he’s suggested that the US is planning to drop a nuke on Ukrainian territory and then blame Russia for it.
The talking head
Dmitriy Peskov, Putin’s press secretary, epitomizes the Russian proverb “You can piss into his eyes and he will say it’s God’s dew.” This maxim describes folks who are so shameless in their ability to tell lies, that they remain unfazed even when directly challenged to their face. Peskov has served as Putin’s spokesperson since 2008. His job, essentially, is to create an alternate reality in which Russia’s geopolitical activities are…