Vladimir Putin has been in power in Russia for over two decades now. Many credit him for the reinvention of the country as a powerful state after the catastrophic collapse of its predecessor state, the communist Soviet Union.
While Putin’s supporters believe he made Russia great again, he has been also criticised for suppressing the country’s political opposition and jailing dissenters like Alexey Navalny.
Among his disputed achievements, his fight with the country’s extremely rich oligarchs stands out as a unique case. While corruption is still a serious problem across Russia, the country’s statecraft is not under the control of oligarchs anymore thanks to Putin’s crackdown on them, according to some well known experts.
Putin’s crackdown was backed by some of his colleagues in the country’s security community, for which he worked in the past, and also other powerful operators of the state bureaucracy.
While he is now at the zenith of his own power as Russian president, he has been long surrounded by some officials, who are not part of the famous Petersburg Group, also referred to as siloviki, the Russian word for the country’s anti-Western security establishment or its deep state.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has been in office since 2004. Both Defence Minister Sergey Shoygu and the country’s top general Valery Gerasimov have kept their seats since 2012. That’s also true for the Kremlin spokesman Dimitry Peskov, who has been in Putin’s press service since 2000.
Let’s become more acquainted with them.
Lavrov is the world’s longest serving foreign minister still alive, having been in his post since 2004 without interruption. The world’s longest streak for keeping a foreign ministry seat belongs to Saudi Arabia’s late Prince Saud al-Faisal, who held the post for 40 years.
Lavrov is indisputably loyal to Putin, but he also possesses the skills necessary for the post. Besides Russian, Lavrov speaks at least four languages including Sinhalese, one of the main languages spoken in Sri Lanka, Dhivehi, the official language of the Maldives, English and French.
Despite having an Armenian father from Georgia’s capital Tbilisi, the 72-year-old Lavrov has never indicated that he speaks his father’s native language. Interestingly, he also chose to use his Russian mother’s last name, Lavrova, rather than his father’s last name, Kalantaryan.
Prior to becoming foreign minister, Lavrov had also served as Russia's permanent ambassador to the UN, one of the most coveted posts for any diplomat, from 1994 to 2004.
While some believe he is not part of Putin’s inner circle, insisting to remain a civil servant of the country, others believe he is definitely part of the Russian president’s assertive foreign policy planning as well as its conduct from Syria to Ukraine.
Another long-term top official of Putin’s presidency also carries the name Sergey. Shoigu, who is a more neutral state operator than being part of siloviki according to some sources, has been the country’s defence minister for the last decade.
Like Lavrov, Shoigu also has a diverse background, with a Turkic-origin father from the Tuvan community of the Tuva Republic, an autonomous region in Russia. His mother is a Ukrainian-born Russian woman, who was involved in regional politics in his native republic. Like Lavrov, Shoigu’s Turkic father also appeared to Russify his last name to adapt it into Russian.
Prior to his defence portfolio, he had also been the minister of emergency situations between 1991 and 2002. In the 2000s, he also kept a crucial post as the leader of United Russia, the country’s largest political party, which supports Putin’s leadership.
Both Putin and Shoigu appear to be close friends. In various breaks, Shoigu joined Putin to vacation together. They spent time together in the Siberian countryside from which Shoigu’s paternal family hails.
Like Lavrov, Shoigu also speaks several languages including English, Japanese, Mandarin Chinese, and Turkish.
Gerasimov, another powerful man in Putin’s circle, is the Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, and first Deputy Defence Minister. Like Shoigu, he has been in office since 2012. He also shares some similarities with Shoigu like being born in Kazan, a Turkic-majority city in the Republic of Tatarstan within Russia. But it’s not clear whether he carries any Turkic ancestry.
While Gerasimov has the looks of an unassertive man, many Western commentators believe he is the creator of Gerasimov Doctrine, a military approach based on modern hybrid warfare, in which military capability is strategically combined with diplomatic, psychological, technological, economic and communications.
But the creator of the term, Mark Galeotti, a Western analyst, later tried to downplay his own creation, believing its interpretations went further than his own initial intentions.
Peskov is also one of Putin’s favourites, serving as his press secretary since 2012. But Peskov’s presence in the Kremlin goes back to 2000 from which he has been part of the Russian presidency’s press service in different positions.
He has some similarities to Lavrov and Shoigu in terms of professing to speak several languages like Turkish and Arabic and possessing expertise on eastern nations.
Peskov has worked as a diplomat to Moscow’s embassy in Ankara for a long period in the 1990s and 2000s. Peskov’s father was the Soviet ambassador to Pakistan. Besides being a diplomat, Peskov is also a Turkologist.