Putin ‘shot himself in the foot’ with Nordic NATO applications
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Vladimir Putin is believed to be readying to temporarily hand over power to one of his closest aides as he prepares for surgery, with rumours swirling over the Russian President’s wellbeing. Messages via the encrypted chat service Telegram suggest that the President has a debilitating illness – widely reported as a type of cancer – that requires him to undergo an operation that he will need time to recover from. General SVR, the Telegram channel said to be run by an ex-Russian Foreign Intelligence Service Lieutenant General, claimed that Putin has been told by doctors the operation will incapacitate him “for a short time”.
The person believed to be in the running to replace Putin is his long time ally Nikolai Patrushev, the 70-year-old secretary of Russia’s Security Council, an outfit that has a direct contact line to the Kremlin.
But while much attention has been given to Patrushev since the invasion began in February, little has been said of another top-ranking official within Russia’s halls of power.
Igor Sechin has been a confidante of Vladimir Putin since the early Nineties when he became his chief of staff in what was then the President’s role of first deputy mayor of St Petersburg.
The pair grew closer when Sechin became Putin’s deputy at the presidential property management department.
Each step up the ladder Putin took, Sechin followed closely behind, and by 1999 had become deputy chief of Putin’s presidential administration.
This rise experienced a momentary bump when, in 2008, he was appointed by President Dmitry Medvedev as deputy Prime Minister of Russia — a move that was considered a demotion.
But he kept an iron grip on politics, and according to the US publisher Stratfor, “Sechin acts as boss of Russia’s gigantic state oil company Rosneft and commands the loyalty of the FSB. Thus, he represents the FSB’s hand in Russia’s energy sector.”
While Patrushev has been described as a “villain”, Sechin has, according to The Guardian and many other publications, managed to earn himself the nickname of “Darth Vader” and the “scariest man on Earth”, likely down to his previous roles in the KGB, the Russian secret service, which Putin was also a part.
As chief executive of Rosneft, he has a central role in Russia’s economy, with annual revenues of the oil giant thought to be enough to fund around 40 percent of the country’s military budget.
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The EU has since blacklisted Sechin, in its sanctions notice saying: “He is one of Vladimir Putin’s most trusted and closest advisers, as well as his personal friend.
“He has been in contact with the Russian president on a daily basis.”
Little is known about his early life before he graduated from Leningrad University in 1984 with French and Portuguese under his belt, later working in Mozambique as a Soviet interpreter.
Today, he is seen as a leading member of Russia’s “siloviki”, a group frequented by former members of the country’s security services who are each believed to wield significant power in the country, of which Patrushev is also a part.
While Sechin held several powerful roles in government, many claim that it was his securing the Rosneft role in 2012 that marked a shift in his position in Russian society.
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From here he negotiated far-reaching oil deals on the behalf of Russia, with Putin said to “reward” him with “great wealth” as a result, according to the EU.
Among the deals he struck included those with Italy’s Eni, Norway’s Statoil (now Equinor), China’s CNPC and America’s ExxonMobil.
The latter drew particular attention as its then boss, Rex Tillerson, was later hired by former President Donald Trump as US Secretary of State.
Stanislav Belkovsky, an analyst formerly connected to the Kremlin, told Vox in 2017: “Putin will count on Sechin as an agent of influence on Tillerson, as a lobbyist.”
The EU claims that Putin’s “rewards” outweigh even his hefty Rosneft pay, reported to be as much as £9.6million in 2015.
Grateful for the influence, Rosneft is thought to return Putin the favour, having financed the vineyards of a palace complex used personally by Putin near the Black Sea resort town of Gelendzhik, according to the EU.
But while Sechin plays a critical role in Russia, some senior Kremlin officials have suggested that that role may be too big in the eyes of some.
One told the Financial Times in 2018: “He has his own way of doing things. This is his style. He is quite a pushy man.
“He is really aggressive in his work. People do not like him.
“People in the government. They dislike him a lot. Putin knows this and he jokes about this. Really.
“I don’t know if [Putin] likes him personally but he likes his effectiveness in certain fields.”
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