Inside Putin’s shadowy & all-powerful inner circle of ‘silovarchs’ plotting to overthrow ‘weak & sickly’ tyrant

VLADIMIR Putin is propped up by an all-powerful cabal of wealthy former and current spies- but the tyrant's disastrous war in Ukraine is stretching their loyalty to breaking point, experts have claimed.

Although the "oligarchs" are more infamous in the West, it is the secretive "silovarchs" who are believed to be the real power behind the 69-year-old Russian president.

The word silovarch, combining the word oligarch and "siloviki" – which translates to "people of force", refers to the generation of Russia's political and business elite who rose through the security services.

While the oligarchs became filthy rich by buying up former state-run Soviet industries for peanuts, displaying their wealth in garish ways, the silovarchs prefer to stay in the shadows.

And with ongoing rumours about Putin's health and reports of his paranoia surrounding a coup and or an uprising – fearing he could be killed like Colonel Gaddafi – it could be these powerful men who step in.

The siloviki could act should Putin escalate his war in Ukraine further – such as by launching a nuclear strike – or attempting to provoke a NATO country and turn the conflict into World War 3.

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Putin's powerful pals – while for now standing by him – will also be "quietly furious" about their lost cash because of the war and biting sanctions.

And should things continue, their loyalty may only stretch as far as their monstrous bank accounts.

Many of the former spies may also be frustrated by the conflict of the war – with many likely believing Putin would never actually invade Ukraine.

Russian intelligence may have massaged Putin's ego by assuring him they could take Kyiv in three days – never thinking he would actually send tanks over the border.

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And instead, they have ended up with a disastrous war which has dragged on for months, lead to the deaths of thousands of Russian soldiers, seen the devastation of Moscow's armed forces, and has humiliated the Kremlin.

Professor Daniel Treisman, a professor of political science at the University of California, was the person who first coined the term silovarch.

Speaking from his Los Angeles office, he told The Sun Online: "Around the early 2000s,  I noticed around that time that many of the old oligarchs from the Yeltsin era were being overtaken by a new set of often-secretive new business people, sometimes taking over their companies.

"They used law enforcement methods to intimidate rivals and seize their companies, and became more and more powerful under Putin."

The most famous example of such a takeover was the case of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, formerly Russia's wealthiest man.

His oil company Yukos was seized and he was jailed for 10 years in 2005, following a trial which Amnesty International and others slammed as "politically motivated".

Yukos was eventually broken up for the benefit of state oil giant Rosneft, controlled by Putin's pal Igor Sechin.


FROM the Russian for ‘people of force’, meet the siloviki – the real power behind Putin’s throne.

Alexander Bortnikov – Head of Russia's FSB – which replaced the KGB, he has also known Putin since the 1970s, when both served in the Leningrad KGB. He controls thousands of people, covering everything from counter-terrorism to intimidating opposition parties.

Sergei Chemezov – Head of state-owned defence company Rostec, Chemezov was stationed with Putin in East Germany in the 80s when both were in the KGB. Has become filthy rich through his ties to Putin, amassing luxury yachts as well as a number of Spanish villas.

Sergei Naryshkin – Head of Russia's foreign intelligence service. Reportedly ex-KGB, he has worked with Putin since the 90s, when the president was deputy mayor of St Petersburg. Earlier this year, he accused the West of being behind Alexei Navalny's poisoning.

Nikolai Patrushev – Head of Russia's security council, Patrushev has known Putin since his KGB days in the 1970s. Is accused of masterminding the 2006 assassination in London of ex-Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko.

Igor Sechin – Considered Putin's "de-facto deputy", Sechin is head of state-owned oil firm Rosneft. He was gifted the powerful company by Putin, just before it took over Yukos, a company controlled by now-exiled Russian billionaire Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

Sergei Shoigu – Russia's defence minister, he regularly goes hunting and fishing with Putin. Is seen by some as a potential successor. Following the disastrous Ukraine invasion, he was not seen in public for more than a month, sparking rumours he had been sidelined.

Explaining why Putin wanted to overthrow the oligarchs, Professor Treisman explained: "He didn't want to co-opt the old business elite, he wanted to replace them.

"He wanted all of Russia's big companies effectively under Kremlin control to make sure they could never be used against him politically.

"It was also about cronyism – helping Putin's old friends become very rich."

Of course, some of the first generation of oligarchs managed to adapt and survive under Putin.

One such example is sanctioned ex-Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich.

Treisman claims certain oligarchs such as Abramovich "survived by doing what the silovarchs were doing. That includes coordinating all their actions with Putin, remaining loyal to the Kremlin, and performing specific functions when asked."

Professor Dr Michael Rochlitz, Professor of Institutional Economics at the University of Bremen in Germany, said that the siloviki have become particularly crucial to Putin's power since 2012 when he began his second spell as president.

"Before 2012 there were different factions among the siloviki," he told The Sun Online. "Some were more liberal, some wanted economic reforms.

"But when Putin retook the presidency, the siloviki became all-powerful.

"He saw what had happened with the recent Arab Spring, and was terrified of a similar uprising in Russia."

In December 2011, Russia saw mass protests against widespread electoral fraud which police struggled to clamp down on, sparking further concerns among Putin and his cronies.

Professor Rochlitz characterised the siloviki as "mostly active police and security service members," who are "wealthy, but nowhere near the level of the oligarchs in 1999".

He also described the three key features of Putin's new band of cronies.

The first is that they share a particular view of Russia as an exceptionally wealthy and powerful country which the rest of the world is jealous of.

Second, they favour a strong state which can defend itself and believe they must guard their knowledge and secrets, to prevent information from leaving the country.

Thirdly, the siloviki see themselves as the only ones capable of defending Russia for one simple reason – they understand that "all politics is lies".

Some of the early silovarchs who emerged in Russia include Igor Sechin at Rosneft, Putin's former KGB pal Sergey Chemezov at Rostech, and Gennady Timchenko, who co-owned the oil trading company, Gunvor.

As the war in Ukraine has dragged on, rumours have swirled of a "palace coup" which will see Putin overthrown by his inner circle.

Professor Rochlitz agrees this is the most likely scenario, especially in a country where "60 to 70 per cent of Russians just get their news from TV".

He argued that the siloviki, especially those in the security services who can get close to Putin, may decide to step in if there is a major escalation.

This could happen if mad Vlad decides to use his nukes or expand the conflict into neighbouring Nato countries.

Many of the silovarchs have been slapped with Western sanctions since the start of the conflict, Professor Treisman notes, pointing out that they will be privately furious at their loss of wealth during the war.

However, he warns that a coup is extremely unlikely – although not impossible – because Putin has fostered an elite around himself that relies on him completely for their power.

[Putin] wanted all of Russia's big companies effectively under Kremlin control to make sure they could never be used against him politically

"The silovarchs understand that without Putin they are nothing," he said. "They don't have independent power, and know that at any point he could take away their companies or have them arrested."

This situation has been deliberately created by the Russian leader in order to enforce loyalty, although it means that if one of his elite turns on him, it could trigger a domino effect among the Russian elite.

"Putin has been careful not to give any hints that he has a successor lined up, as this would make him a lame duck," Treisman added.

"It would also create splits within the elite around him. He gives every indication of wanting to stay in power indefinitely, and in fact, it likely wouldn't be safe for him to step down, even if he wanted to."

Professor Rochlitz agrees that Putin's successor may well be waiting in the shadows to take over, pointing out that the Russian president was a relatively minor figure until he emerged as Yeltsin's successor.

"Russia's next leader is likely to be someone we don't know, who will emerge from the second rank of the siloviki as a new strongman," he said.

"Putin has surrounded himself with people who are weak and have only been given their jobs because they are loyal.

Professor Rochlitz also claims that many of the FSB spies who make up the siloviki are deeply frustrated at Putin's handling of the war in Ukraine.

"Intelligence officers were ordered to prepare reports on a possible invasion of Ukraine but were told that Russia would never actually invade," he said.

"They had to prepare these documents claiming that if Russia invaded, it could seize Kyiv in three days, but they knew it would be crazy to actually do it.

"These spies were writing reports in the knowledge that the invasion would never actually happen. But then it happened, and they were held responsible.

"They are furious."

He added that the economic elites in Russia all understand that the war is "hugely harmful, and will bring economic devastation to Russia in the next couple of months".

While Professor Treisman has also set out a realistic scenario for how Putin could lose power.

"If there is a failure of the state to manage multiple escalating crises, involving public protests and an economic meltdown, the Kremlin may well just lose control of Russia, and the security services would step in," he explained.

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"Army leaders and others may start resisting orders from Putin as well.

"Rather than an organised conspiracy from within, there may simply be a meltdown of the regime all at once."

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