When Russian President Vladimir Putin held the final meeting of his Security Council before launching the invasion of Ukraine, one Kremlin hawk seemed to dominate the room.
Nikolai Patrushev, the powerful Security Council secretary and close Putin ally from their days together at the KGB in St. Petersburg, told the Russian president that the United States was behind tensions in eastern Ukraine and seeking to orchestrate Russia’s collapse. “Our task is to defend the territorial integrity of our country and defend its sovereignty,” Patrushev said in broadcast remarks.
Patrushev, whose position is equivalent to the U.S. national security adviser, was expressing a Cold War view that has driven Putin’s war. Ever since Putin ordered the Feb. 24 invasion, blindsiding much of the country’s elite, Patrushev has become a hard-line avatar for a militaristic Russia.
Patrushev’s sudden emergence after more than two decades as a behind-the-scenes power broker has underlined his role as a driving force in the Kremlin. For a while, it even prompted questions about whether he was seeking to position himself to take over from Putin, amid persistent speculation about the president’s health and Russia’s retreat from Kyiv.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told The Washington Post that the suggestion that Patrushev’s role had changed was an “invention.” Patrushev had always been active in line with his “broad sphere of authority,” Peskov said.