- Fernanda Bol
- BBC News World
Nothing is improvised in the life of Vladimir Putin.
Every step of the Russian president is closely monitored by hundreds of bodyguards who accompany him around the clock.
His food is surreptitiously cooked and anything he drinks must be checked beforehand by his closest advisor.
The former KGB officer – the Soviet Security Service – is well aware of the threats surrounding him, especially in times of war.
Putin is leading his country’s invasion of Ukraine, which poses additional security risks.
But who is really responsible for protecting it? What measures are being taken to ensure its safety? Here’s what we know.
Complete safety equipment
Among the many security services currently operating in Russia, there is one specifically dedicated to protecting the president and his family: the Russian Presidential Security Service.
This division is part of the Russian Federal Protective Service (FSO), which has its origins in the former KGB and also protects other senior Russian officials, including Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin.
This is where the men in black with earbuds who follow the chief day and night come in.
According to Russian media Beyond, which is owned by the Russian government, when these agents accompany it on its activities abroad, they organize themselves into four circles.
The nearest circle consists of his bodyguards.
The second circle consists of guards who pass unnoticed among the crowd. The third circle surrounds the perimeter of the crowd and prevents suspects from entering.
And the fourth and last are snipers on the roofs of the surrounding buildings.
These agents also accompany him when Putin moves from one place to another.
“Putin doesn’t like helicopters, and he usually travels in huge motorcades, with bikers, lots of big black cars, trucks, etc. For that stretch, you block any drones that might be in the air of space and stop traffic,” said Mark Gallotti. , the Russian security expert and director of Mayak Intelligence, a consulting firm specializing in Russian security issues, told BBC Mundo.
Russia’s presidential security service is backed by the “Russian National Guard,” or Rosgvardia, which Putin himself created just six years ago and described by some as a sort of “military figure” for the president.
It is independent of the Russian armed forces, and although its official mission is to secure borders, combat terrorism and protect public order, among other things, one of its most important in practice is to protect Putin from threats.
“Everyone knows they are pretty much Putin’s bodyguards,” Stephen Holl, a Russia expert at the University of Bath in the UK, told BBC Mundo.
“The president is well protected by them and the rest of the security services,” he adds.
The National Guard is currently led by Viktor Zolotov, Putin’s former bodyguard. He is a staunch ally of the president, and in recent years has increased the number of members of the security forces by nearly 400,000.
“That’s a huge number – security units for presidents like the United States are nowhere near that number,” Hall says.
What measures are taken to protect it?
While it is difficult to know the extent of the measures aimed at protecting Putin, the Kremlin itself and Russian security experts have offered some clarifications on the matter.
One of the issues that is treated with great care is that of food.
According to Mark Galeotti, Putin, fearing poisoning, has a personal taste that checks everything he eats.
“It’s part of a style more like a medieval king than a modern president,” he told BBC Mundo.
Also, when he travels outside Russia, the boss’s team takes care of everything he consumes.
“They take all the food and drink that he will consume. So, for example, if there is a formal champagne toast, he drinks from the bottle that his team brings him, and not from the others,” Galeotti explains.
Meanwhile, Stephen Holl says his bodyguards are closely monitoring his cooking to avoid any risks.
Another measure to protect it is the ban on smartphones inside the Kremlin.
And the Russian president himself stressed that he does not use these devices.
In 2020, in an interview with the Russian state news agency TASS, he admitted this, noting that if he wanted to communicate with a person, then there is an official line to do so.
His advisors admitted it. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has repeatedly said that Putin does not use a mobile phone because he “does not have much time.”
But one reason Putin is reluctant to use this technology is that he is deeply suspicious of the Internet.
In the past, he has already pointed out that the Internet is a “project of the CIA” – the US intelligence agency – and has called on Russians not to search on Google because he thinks Americans are monitoring all information.
“Putin practically does not use the Internet, he is well known, he does not like phones. Well, let’s be honest, from a security point of view, Putin is absolutely right. Smartphones are not very secure,” Galeotti says.
In this context, the academic claims that Putin was informed of paper files presented to him by his advisers.
“He begins his day with three security briefings. One is about what is happening in the world, one is about what is happening in Russia and a third is about what is happening within the elite,” he explains.
“For him, this is the most important information that will define his day.
“I remember talking to diplomats and people in the State Department who told me they were frustrated because if they had information that would conflict with his intelligence services, Putin would be inclined to assume that his spies are right and the diplomats are wrong,” he added. .
isolation and epidemic
Currently, access to Vladimir Putin is very limited.
The few commanders who meet him should do so within a few meters of him. We remember the meeting with his French counterpart, Emmanuel Macron, who was to be seated at the other end of a long table.
These measures are part of the legacy of the coronavirus pandemic that ended with him being further isolated.
According to the BBC Russian service, the measures implemented during this period include: a mandatory two-week quarantine for anyone who wishes to see them; a strict medical monitoring system, including regular PCR tests for everyone around him; and an almost total reduction in her attendance at public events.
On March 15, Russian government press secretary Dmitry Peskov confirmed that all anti-coronavirus measures related to Putin’s safety will remain in place until “experts” consider them appropriate.
In Russia, his personal health is a matter of national security.
In an interview with BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, General James Clapper – who oversaw the CIA, FBI and National Security Agency and was a senior advisor to President Barack Obama – asserted that Putin had been removed.
“Putin has been pretty isolated, especially in the past two years because of the pandemic, and what makes it worse is the fact that he has very few people who can really reach him, which makes it very difficult to gather intelligence that you can have faith and trust in. “.
Galeotti agrees. “Putin lives very isolated,” he says. “The circle of people around him has been greatly reduced.”
“He no longer travels around the country and his appearances at public events is somewhat unusual. Security officers are among the few people with whom Putin has a personal relationship,” he notes.
According to Galeotti, this partly explains why many of them were subsequently appointed to high positions (such as Viktor Zolotov in the National Guard).
Some intelligence analysts say the heightened security measures surrounding Putin may be explained in part by real Russian “paranoia”.
Others say Putin, with his KGB background, knows better than anyone how important it is to protect his safety.
In both cases, everything indicates that his protection and isolation are only increasing. And this, says Galeotti, in the Kremlin things are done “as Putin wants.”
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