He is a staunch defender of the war in Ukraine, sees America as the embodiment of the devil, and now wants to make Russia’s economy completely sovereign. Portrait of superhawk Nikolai Patrushev, a man in the shadows who shapes Putin’s worldview.
When Vladimir Putin convened Russia’s Security Council on February 21, most members seemed frozen in fear. One by one, ministers, high-ranking officials and governors, trembling and stumbling over their words, promise to support Putin’s plan to recognize the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics. Everyone knows what this means and what the consequences of the fateful decision made by the chief will be. One of the few speakers that day to address Putin in a relaxed, almost good-natured manner was Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev. He fully supports the idea of recognizing the people’s republics and says that Russia must move forward. He is one of the superhawks, an expression used to describe a person who takes a particularly aggressive or muscular position in a conflict. According to him, the conflict in Ukraine was “organized by the United States.” Negotiations no longer have any purpose. “The secret goal of the United States,” says Patrushchev, “is nothing but the disintegration of the Russian Federation.” Therefore, there is no other way out. “
Like other members of the Security Council, Mykola Patrushev understands very well the consequences of Putin’s decision. Or war with Ukraine will destroy Russia’s international reputation. But while most senior executives shudder at the prospect, Patrushev seems to welcome it. However, like other security officers (literally “muscular men”, so called heads of Russian special services), Patrushev has long been a supporter of muscular action..
Patrushev is an engineer who made a career in FSB intelligence in the 1990s, the successor to the KGB. When Vladimir Putin became prime minister in 1999, Patrushev succeeded him as director. As soon as he took office, he gave an interview to the Russian daily Komsomolskaya Pravda, which was to become iconic. He declares without blinking that the secret services are “the new aristocracy of Russia.” Asked whether all these spies posed a long-term threat to democracy, he said such remarks only “undermined confidence in the new government”. Still, according to Patrushev, Russia especially needs “tough pragmatists” who are able to confront “contradictions and emerging threats” and who know what the “spirit of public service” means.
In 2008, Dmitry Medvedev took over the presidency, and Patrushev was promoted to Russia’s Security Council, where he served as secretary. At the time, the Security Council was more administrative and less influential in politics. But under Patrushev’s leadership, the Security Service is becoming a place that centralizes all information flows. As secretary, Patrushev takes on the role of director and editor: he selects, organizes and contextualizes information for the president. To a large extent, it will shape Putin’s worldview. For many, he is the man who persuaded Putin to go to war.
And this world consists of conspiracies and maneuvers of the West. When various popular uprisings erupt in the Arab world in 2011, it will also create some uncertainty at the heart of the Russian regime. As a right-wing homo sovieticus, Patrushev sees only one possible culprit in this growing instability: America. The war in South Ossetia in 2008, the Arab uprisings, the Maidan in 2014? All the pathetic CIA conspiracies to destroy Russia, he says.
In an interview with Kommersant in 2015, he went so far as to say that the Taliban and Al Qaeda were founded by the United States. In the same interview, he said that former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright wants to destroy Russia because it wants to seize the natural resources of Siberia and the Far East. The statement appears to be based on an FSB officer who claimed in the 1990s that he could read Albright’s thoughts through parapsychology. And Patrushev seems to sincerely believe in this story.
Patrushev seems more concerned about Ukraine’s democratic ambitions than NATO’s possible encroachment on the territory. He considers it a real betrayal when the so-called “brother people” are evil against “Western” values such as democracy and tolerance. For him, Europe is nothing but a place of moral decay filled with horror! – homosexuals and simple lackeys of American imperialism.
Patrushev also seems to have taken advantage of the crisis to increase his influence. Thus, in an interview with the official government newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta in late April, he called for an intensification of the struggle in Ukraine. According to Patrushev, Russia is at war with the West because it is the only country that dares to oppose America, which for years has encouraged Ukrainians to “hate everything Russian.” Russia is fighting in Ukraine for its “cultural and spiritual identity.”
Emphasizing this almost existential dimension of the Ukrainian war, Mr. Patrushev is trying to increase pressure, particularly domestic. Unlike foreign policy, which for years was effectively monopolized by the security forces, economic policy has so far remained in the hands of technocrats. (otherwise relatively competent). For example, the President of the Central Bank of Russia Elvira Nabiullini managed for almost ten years to relatively well protect the Russian economy from the constant financial and economic sanctions provoked by progressive foreign policy.
Patrushev is convinced that the Russian economy should be organized on a sovereign basis. He does not want to abolish the market economy, but believes that Russian entrepreneurs should prefer Russia’s “economic security” and not think too much about market mechanisms. If Russia now has problems with import sanctions, it is mainly because some government agencies have not listened enough to the president. He also put forward the idea of pegging the ruble to the prices of certain raw materials in order to financially separate Russia from the world economy. The fact that many of his ideas contradict generally accepted economic assumptions does not seem to concern him. Because, according to Patrushev, these economic views are precisely the American strategy of enslaving the rest of the world.
However, his ambitious ideas and bravado only badly mask the fact that this man is fighting for his own political survival. Errors in Russia’s judgments in Ukraine are largely related to the work of special services. As the old Russian proverb says, “the king is good and the boyars are bad” (old feudal aristocracy). Folk wisdom, which the supreme hawk of the “new aristocracy” decided to ignore at his own risk.