For years, the US security establishment has been wishing for Russian President Vladimir Putin to get served a cup of tea with a touch of poison. But Washington should be careful what it wishes for. With Putin reportedly about to go under the knife for a cancer surgery, Putin’s right-hand henchman, Nikolai Patrushev, is poised to temporarily take over, and he could be even worse than his master. Patrushev is the most influential person in the Kremlin bureaucracy and is the only person Putin trusts — to the extent he trusts anyone. The two share more than a strong professional relationship. They are friends. Both Putin and Patrushev come from the same stock of Chekists, the term that refers to Soviet and Russian intelligence services known by the Russian acronym ChK, the powerful secret police agency in the USSR. Chekists view themselves as elite warriors, dedicated to protecting the fatherland from its enemies. Both men have a military background, are trained to use weapons and famed for their brutality. During Stalin’s era, known as “Red Terror,” Chekists eliminated “enemies of the people” using a “special tradecraft” — executions by a shot in the back of the head. Putin and Patrushev’s friendship dates back to their KGB service, which Putin joined in 1975, one year after Patrushev was recruited. Both at different times also served as heads of the FSB, Russia’s domestic security service, a successor of the KBG and a rough equivalent to the FBI. In 1998, Patrushev took over from Putin as Deputy Chief of Presidential Administration under Boris Yeltsin.