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The Laborious-Line Russian Advisers Who Have Putin’s Ear

MOSCOW — The West is legalizing marriage between individuals and animals. Ukraine’s leaders are as unhealthy as Hitler, and the nation’s nationalists are “nonhumans.”

These are the views present in President Vladimir V. Putin’s internal circle, among the many high Russian safety officers who’re prone to be on the desk as their chief decides whether or not to launch an open battle in opposition to Ukraine.

In remarks revealed by the Russian information media within the final 12 months, these highly effective males — largely born within the Nineteen Fifties Soviet Union, as Mr. Putin was — have staked out much more reactionary positions than their president has, an indication of the harder-line flip that the Kremlin is taking because it escalates its battle with perceived enemies at house and overseas.

The rise of the safety officers within the president’s orbit traces Mr. Putin’s evolution from a younger chief who confirmed a pleasant face to the West within the early 2000s — whereas surrounding himself with advisers who included distinguished liberals — to the person now implicitly threatening to start out a serious battle in Europe.

It’s also a narrative of the Kremlin’s yearslong battle to craft an ideology to underpin Mr. Putin’s rule: one which more and more depends on an image of the West as an enemy, of Ukraine as a risk and of Russia as a bulwark of “conventional values.”

“That is an try collectively to kind a counter-ideology, since Putin doesn’t have an ideology,” Konstantin Remchukov, a Moscow newspaper editor with Kremlin ties, stated of what he known as the “conservative-reactionary” worldview of Russia’s safety elite. “The important thing postulate is that everybody is in opposition to Russia.”

Nobody actually is aware of how Mr. Putin makes his selections or whom he listens to most as he considers his next steps. The Russian president, the Kremlin says, is reviewing written responses the USA and NATO delivered this previous week to Moscow on its safety calls for — together with a assure that Ukraine by no means develop into a member of NATO.

On Friday, the Kremlin stated the West’s responses didn’t tackle Russia’s greatest safety considerations. However Mr. Putin himself has kept silent, avoiding public touch upon Ukraine since December, regardless of on-camera appearances almost daily.

That leaves the hawks round him to supply clues to his considering. A few of them first met Mr. Putin working with him within the Soviet Okay.G.B., and have been accused by Western officers of overseeing the assassinations, influence operations, cyber espionage and brutal warfare which have helped estrange the Kremlin from Europe and the USA.

Mr. Putin is understood for indulging deceptive, anti-Western tropes, however his important nationwide safety adviser, Nikolai Patrushev, espouses them with even better ardor. Mr. Putin paints an image of enemies bent on falsifying Russia’s superb previous, however his international intelligence chief, Sergei Naryshkin, has taken on the battle over historical past as a particular precedence.

Mr. Putin has embraced extra state involvement within the financial system, however his protection minister, Sergei Okay. Shoigu, has taken that pattern to an excessive by pitching an enormous state-led effort to construct new cities in Siberia.

“Some sort of time machine is taking us again into the worst years of Hitler’s occupation,” Mr. Naryshkin stated of Ukraine this month, describing its pro-Western authorities as a “true dictatorship.” He was opening an exhibit in Moscow titled “Human Rights Abuses in Ukraine.”

Mr. Shoigu final month called Ukrainian nationalists “nonhumans.” Mr. Patrushev has described the “Russophobia” in Ukraine because the outgrowth of a Western propaganda marketing campaign courting to jealous European scribes who besmirched Ivan the Horrible.

“They didn’t like that the Russian Czar didn’t acknowledge their political and ethical management,” Mr. Patrushev said of the Sixteenth-century tyrant recognized for his fearsome secret police.

Now, as Mr. Putin weighs how far to boost the stakes in Ukraine, the query is how a lot he adopts the conspiratorial mind-set of his hawks. In Moscow, some analysts nonetheless see a realistic streak in Mr. Putin. He weighs the grievances and paranoia promoted by confidants like Mr. Patrushev, they are saying, in opposition to the extra sober enter of individuals like Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin, a technocrat charged with preserving the financial system working.

“These persons are conservative radicals,” stated Mr. Remchukov, who ran the 2018 re-election marketing campaign of the mayor of Moscow, Mr. Putin’s former chief of workers. “It could be a conservative middle, however Putin is within the middle.”

Many indicators, nevertheless, level to the “radicals” gaining sway. The obvious change has been inside Russia, the place the poisoning of the opposition chief Aleksei A. Navalny in 2020 was adopted by a far-reaching crackdown final 12 months on activists, the information media and even lecturers. Western officers stated Mr. Navalny was poisoned by the Russian authorities, however Mr. Naryshkin, the international intelligence chief, has described the poisoning as engineered by Western brokers in search of a “sacrificial sufferer” to assist deliver down Mr. Putin.

As they work to crush dissent, the hard-line safety officers are additionally on the forefront of espousing “conventional values” as Russia’s superior different to a morally decaying West. A tv channel was just lately fined for displaying a person with lengthy hair and painted nails — “not similar to the picture of a person of a standard sexual orientation.” Two bloggers had been sentenced to 10 months in jail for a sexually suggestive picture in entrance of St. Basil’s Cathedral.

“Father and mom are being renamed father or mother primary and two,” Mr. Patrushev stated in a September interview, describing the West’s “international” values. “They need to give kids the proper to find out their very own intercourse, and in some locations they’ve gotten to the purpose of legalizing marriage with animals.”

Mr. Putin repeated the road about “father or mother primary and two” in an appearance a month later, however neglected the zoophilia.

As Russian troops mass close to Ukraine, one other component of the safety officers’ ideology looms massive: the glorification of the Soviet previous. Mr. Patrushev stated the collapse of the Soviet Union “completely untied the palms of the Western neoliberal elite,” permitting it to impose its nontraditional values upon the world. He and his colleagues solid Russia as a nation destined to regain that standing as a bulwark in opposition to the West, with Ukraine and different post-Soviet nations belonging to Moscow’s rightful sphere of affect.

“This is likely one of the darkest currents of Russian nationalism, multiplied by imperialism,” stated Andrei Kolesnikov, a senior fellow on the Carnegie Moscow Heart suppose tank. The aim for Russia’s safety elite, he stated, is “the restoration of empire.”

Mr. Putin has himself described the collapse of the Soviet Union as a “geopolitical disaster.” However he additionally used to hunt out the recommendation of a variety of officers, together with these with liberal factors of view. Now, these officers have largely been pushed out of presidency, whereas the technocrats like Mr. Mishustin virtually by no means communicate out on issues past their speedy space of accountability.

That leaves the category of elite safety officers recognized collectively because the “siloviki,” a lot of whom — like Mr. Patrushev, Mr. Naryshkin and Aleksandr Bortnikov, Russia’s home spy chief — labored within the Okay.G.B. together with Mr. Putin.

Their sway extends nicely past safety issues: Mr. Patrushev, an avid volleyball participant, heads Russia’s Volleyball Federation, and his son is the minister of agriculture. Mr. Naryshkin oversees the Russian Historic Society, serving to to steer the cost in glorifying — and, critics say, whitewashing — Russia’s previous. Mr. Shoigu, the protection minister, indulges Mr. Putin’s curiosity within the open air as president of the Russian Geographical Society and takes Mr. Putin on common vacations into the Siberian woods.

For these officers, analysts say, rising tensions with the West are a superb factor, growing their affect inside the ruling elite.

“The spiraling confrontation and sanctions don’t scare the siloviki however, quite the opposite, open up extra alternatives for them,” Tatiana Stanovaya, the founding father of a political evaluation agency, R. Politik, wrote recently.

Russian analysts at the moment are left questioning whether or not Mr. Putin has sufficient of a realistic streak remaining to keep away from an open battle with Ukraine. Russia’s closure last month of Memorial International, the Moscow human-rights group that lengthy angered Russia’s safety institution for uncovering the crimes of the Soviet secret police, represented an extra swing by Mr. Putin towards the views of the siloviki.

However Western sanctions over a Ukraine incursion may have wide-ranging penalties, as proven by the plunge within the Russian inventory market amid battle fears in current weeks. And army casualties may deliver unpredictable aftereffects in home politics and stain Mr. Putin’s legacy.

“If we now have battle with Ukraine and fratricidal loss of life, then that will probably be all that he will probably be remembered for,” Mr. Remchukov, the newspaper editor, stated. “He can’t not perceive what a sin that will be.”

Alina Lobzina, Khava Khasmagomadova and Oleg Matsnev contributed reporting.

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