Putin's power doesn't exist in a vacuum: Here are 14 of his biggest enablers, from billionaire oligarchs to world leaders

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Nikolai Patrushev; Roman Abramovich; Wladimir Putin; Xi Jinping; Elon Musk Lintao Zhang, Pool/Associated Press; Sang Tan/Associated Press; Kay Nietfeld/Picture Alliance/Getty Images; Alex Brandon/Associated Press; Evan Agostini/Invision/Associated Press
Vladimir Putin maintains a cadre of supporters despite his increasing global isolation.
Russian oligarchs, world leaders and American experts made possible Putin's war in Ukraine.
Here are some of the key figures who helped strengthen Putin.
Russian President Vladimir Putin launched an unprovoked attack on Ukraine in February, but the invasion was the culmination of two decades in power facilitated by world leaders, billionaire oligarchs and other powerful figures.
A Soviet KGB officer-turned-politician, Putin has effectively been in power for over two decades. He served his first two terms as President of Russia from 2000 to 2008 and was re-elected President in 2012. He was also Prime Minister of Russia from 1999 to 2000 and from 2008 to 2012.
In his last term as president, Putin drastically escalated the conflict with Ukraine, including the violent annexation of Crimea in 2014, a move considered illegal and illegitimate by most parts of the world. His time in power was also marred by reports of murdered dissidents, a steady decline in democracy in Russia, and interference in foreign elections, including in the US.
Nonetheless, influential figures have continued to support Putin, either through direct support, such as partnerships or trust in Russian energy products, or indirectly, by uncritically repeating his arguments or allowing him to operate relatively unchecked. Here are some of the key figures who made Putin's power possible.
Dmitry Medvedev
Russian President Vladimir Putin and then Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev attend a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, February 23, 2017.
Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has stood in lockstep with Putin — his presidential predecessor and successor — in the country's war effort since February's invasion.
Medvedev, a close Putin ally who has issued genocide threats against Ukraine, was elected president in 2008 after his first two terms. Russia's constitution at the time limited Putin to two consecutive terms, but he managed to retain power in Medvedev's government by serving as prime minister from 2008 to 2012.
When Putin retook the presidency in 2012 in an election marred by allegations of fraud, Medvedev took his place as prime minister, a position he held until 2020, when he resigned to facilitate Putin's efforts to overhaul Russia's constitution.
Putin also appointed him Deputy Chairman of the Security Council of Russia, a position he holds to this day.
Medvedev has become increasingly aggressive in supporting Putin's Ukraine invasion and has made several belligerent statements about the conflict and Russia's nuclear arsenal. In June, Medvedev threatened to attack “western targets” after the US agreed to supply Ukraine with advanced missile systems and later expressed a desire to “make all enemies of Moscow go away”.
In September, he reiterated Putin's thinly veiled nuclear threats, stressing that Putin's warning "was definitely not a bluff, and earlier this month described Russia's ongoing unprovoked war as a holy conflict with 'Satan'."
Sergei Shoigu
Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) accompanied by Sergei Shoigu gestures while fishing in the remote Tuva region of southern Siberia August 3, 2017. Alexey Nikolsky/SPutnik/AFP via Getty Images
Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, a loyal and longtime friend of Putin, was once seen as a possible successor to the Russian presidency.
But as the official responsible for Russia's war in Ukraine, Shoigu has become a lightning rod for criticism amid the often-failed war effort.
Shoigu has marked a steady rise through Russia's elite, using his close ties to powerful people, including Russia's first President Boris Yeltsin and then Putin himself. Shoigu and Putin's friendship seemed to transcend politics: the two often vacationed in together the Siberian forests where they fished and hiked
Though he never actually served in the military, Shoigu has for years implemented Putin's defense aspirations, spearheading the 2014 invasion and annexation of Crimea and contributing to Russia's intervention in Syria the following year.
The West sanctioned Shoigu just a day after Russia's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. But months of mounting Russian military failures have sparked rumors of a rift between Putin and Shoigu. Despite this, Shoigu has remained silent, despite his apparent role as Putin's scapegoat.
"Shoigu is poised to be basically Putin's bulletproof vest," Mark Galeotti, head of Russia-focused consultancy Mayak Intelligence, told Insider's Sophia Ankel.
Nikolai Patrushev
Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev and Russian President Vladimir Putin during a meeting with the Secretary General of Japan's National Security Council.
Nikolai Patrushev, secretary of Russia's Security Council, is another longtime Putin ally and one of the very few rulers known to enjoy the President's trust.
Patrushev and Putin are old KGB comrades whose relationship dates back to 1998 and is considered one of the most powerful siloviki, as close aides to violence are known. Galeotti told the Washington Post in July that Patrushev had long been the "devil on Putin's shoulder, whispering poison in his ear."
Since the war began, Patrushev has made several trips abroad on behalf of the Russian war effort and has spoken for Putin on a variety of issues as the 70-year-old president became increasingly reclusive.
"His ideas form the basis of the decisions made by Putin," Tatiana Stanovaya, the founder of the Russian political consultancy R.Politik, told The Post of Patrushev. "He's one of the few figures that Putin listens to."
Since the invasion, Patrushev has developed into a reliable frontman and frequent public promoter of the Russian war. His prominence on the global stage has raised questions about his personal goals and whether or not he seeks Putin's power for himself.
The Kremlin has dismissed hints of new powers for the security minister, but some intelligence experts see Patrushev as a likely successor to Putin should the president fall ill.
The Russian oligarchs
In this November 10, 2017 file photo, Russia's President Vladimir Putin (left) and Oleg Deripaska (right) attend the APEC Business Advisory Council dialogue in Danang, Vietnam.
Dozens of Russian oligarchs were among the first to face Western sanctions immediately after the invasion for their close ties to President Putin.
Many of these ultra-rich Russian businessmen helped propel Putin's meteoric rise to power and kept him there.
Several of the "original" oligarchs amassed their power during the "perestroika" reforms of Russia's economy and political system in the late 1980s. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, these men bought up industrial companies that were being sold by the state, lining their pockets and increasing their influence.
When Putin took over the presidency in 2000, he promised to crack down on government corruption and exile certain oligarchs. But men friendly to Putin—and sworn to stay out of politics—could get even richer and leave Putin to his political machinations with little scrutiny.
A new wave of Russian security elites emerged in the 1990s. These quasi-military elites later became known as silovarchs - a combination of the word oligarch and siloviki, a reference to the Russian military.
Hugo Crosthwaite, a senior analyst for security intelligence agency Dragonfly, told Insider's Sam Tabahriti that the Siloviki are more a part of Putin's inner circle and part of his regime.
"Siloviki is ultimately closer to the president than oligarchs," he said.
But some of these siloviki and oligarchs wield more “Putin power” than others.
Roman Abramovich
Roman Abramovich no longer owns Chelsea FC. Clive Mason/Getty Images
Roman Abramovich has become one of Russia's most well-known oligarchs, having previously been the owner of Chelsea Football Club, a top-flight London football team which he managed for almost two decades.
In recent months, Abramovich has been in the spotlight after being sanctioned by the European Union and the UK following Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Abramovich served as an unofficial envoy at peace talks between Russia and Ukraine that spring, when Western officials seized his many assets, including his huge yacht.
Though he is not an official member of the negotiating team, Abramovich's access to such talks offers a glimpse into what is believed to be his close relationship with Putin. European officials say Abramovich has "privileged access" to the Russian president and has had close ties with Putin for decades, Insider's Grace Dean and James Dean reported in April.
Abramovich himself has repeatedly denied any financial ties to Putin or any close relationship with the president. But Western officials say the oligarch and his companies have received "preferential treatment and concessions" from Putin, including tax breaks and grants.
The Times of London reported that Abramovich met with Putin in March and presented the president with a handwritten note from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy asking for peace, which Putin promptly rejected.
Gennady Timchenko
Russian tycoon Gennady Timchenko, left, attends a meeting of Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, with French businessmen at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, Wednesday, May 25, 2016.
Timchenko, a billionaire trader and businessman who faced US sanctions before the Russian invasion, is another notable oligarch with close ties to Putin. Timchenko, the sixth richest man in Russia, was the wealthiest oligarch to face US sanctions earlier this year.
The two men have been friends since the early 1990s, according to The Guardian, when Putin, then a rising political star, gifted Timchenko an oil export license to help the St. Petersburg oil trader.
Timchenko emerged as a co-founder of the Gunvor Group, a Switzerland-based trading house that exports billions of dollars worth of Russian oil. Both the company and Putin have denied allegations that the Russian president was a "sleepy" beneficiary of Gunvor's activities and profited from oil exports, The Guardian reported.
But the US sanctioned Timchenko in 2014, along with other members of the "inner circle of the Russian leadership," claiming that Timchenko's activities in the energy sector had direct ties to Putin. Timchenko said he sold his stake in Gunvor a day before it was sanctioned by the US in 2014 for annexing Crimea.
Timchenko remains the founder and owner of private investment firm Volga Group, which is a major shareholder in giant Russian natural gas producer Novatek.
Chinese leader Xi Jinping
Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) and Chinese leader Xi Jinping pose for a photo during their meeting in Beijing February 4, 2022. Photo by ALEXEI DRUZHININ/Sputnik/AFP via Getty Images
China and Russia are not formal allies, but relations between the two countries, particularly on trade and defense, have expanded over the past decade. The two countries regard each other as strategic partners and said in February their relationship had "no borders".
In early February, as concerns grew over the possibility of a Russian invasion of Ukraine, Chinese officials urged Russian officials to wait until after the Beijing Winter Olympics ended, according to Western intelligence officials.
The intelligence report suggested that Chinese officials had some level of prior knowledge of the planned invasion, although it was not clear whether Chinese leader Xi Jinping and Putin had communicated directly. But asking for the delay may have emboldened Putin to actually go through with it, Simon Miles, an assistant professor at Duke University's Sanford School of Public Policy and a historian of the Soviet Union and US-Soviet relations, told Insider.
After the invasion, as Western countries imposed crippling sanctions on Russia, China continued to buy Russian oil and gas, serving as a lifeline for the Kremlin to continue the war effort. China, the biggest buyer of Russian oil, has even quietly increased its purchases since the war began.
Xi has also refrained from condemning the invasion, although Putin acknowledged in September that the Chinese leader had concerns about the war. But when the United Nations Security Council voted to condemn Russia's annexation of Ukrainian lands as illegal, China abstained.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi meets Russian President Vladimir Putin in May 2018. Getty Images
Like China, India maintained ties with Russia throughout the war and continued to buy energy products. India also drastically increased its purchases of Russian oil at heavily discounted prices in the spring, helping to fund the war effort in Ukraine.
India has refrained from condemning Russia's invasion and the two countries have described their relationship as a "special and privileged strategic partnership".
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi criticized the war during a face-to-face meeting with Putin in September. "Today's era is not an era of war and I spoke to you about it on the phone," Modi said. Putin acknowledged Modi's concerns and said he too wanted to end the war as soon as possible.
However, fears of losing Chinese and Indian support may have emboldened Putin to escalate the war in hopes of ending it sooner. And when the United Nations Security Council voted to condemn Russia's annexation of Ukrainian lands, India also abstained.
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko
Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) greets Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko (L) during a welcoming ceremony in Saint Petersburg, Russia, December 20, 2019.
Belarus is Putin's most important ally on the world stage, alongside its authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko. Located north of Ukraine, the country is Russia's only ally in Europe.
Belarus has deep ties with Russia and the two remained close even after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. The countries are linked by a series of political, economic, and defense agreements, including the Union State, the Eurasian Economic Union, and the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a military alliance of post-Soviet states that Putin has backed as a NATO counterpart.
Lukashenko, dubbed Europe's last dictator, and Putin have a close relationship, with Belarus supporting Russia in the war effort. Belarus served as a staging area for Russian troops before the invasion and has since been used by Russia to launch ballistic missiles into Ukraine. Hospitals in Belarus near the Ukrainian border have also taken in wounded Russian soldiers.
Lukashenko, known for outlandish claims including that vodka protects against COVID-19, even seemed at one point to betray Russia's war plans in Ukraine.
Gerhard Schröder
German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder (right), Russian President Vladimir Putin (centre) and French President Jacques Chirac at a joint press conference in Svetlogorsk, Kaliningrad, July 3, 2005.
Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder has forged close ties with Russia and Putin.
Schröder, who was Chancellor from 1998 to 2005, campaigned during his tenure for the construction of the first subsea gas pipeline that would deliver Russian natural gas directly to Germany. Three weeks after leaving office, Schröder became chairman of the board of partners of Nord Stream, the company behind the pipeline, despite concerns of conflict of interest or wrongdoing.
Since then, he's made nearly $1 million a year from energy companies controlled by the Kremlin, the New York Times reported. Schröder was one of Germany's most prominent advocates of importing Russian energy to power the country's industrial economy.
When Germany was forced to confront its dependence on Russia's oil and gas after invading Ukraine, some blamed Schroeder, who critics say has been promoting Russian energy at the expense of Germany's long-term interests.
Schröder was also criticized in August after a private meeting with Putin during a trip to Moscow. He told German media he had nothing to apologize for and said the West should give due credit to Russia's "real fears of being hemmed in by hostile countries," The Guardian reported. He also recommended that Ukraine remain neutral and that both sides must make compromises.
Schröder is now being investigated by the German Social Democrats, the party to which he has belonged since 1963, because of his ties to Russia and Putin.
Olga Skabeyeva
Russia-1 host Olga Skabeyeva has played a key role in the Kremlin's propaganda strategy amid the war in Ukraine.YouTube/UATV English
Olga Skabeyeva has emerged as perhaps the most passionate and prominent Russian TV propagandist in a sea of ​​TV propagandists who have pushed the Kremlin's talking points since the start of the war.
Skabeyeva, nicknamed "Chief Propagandist" and "Putin TV's Iron Doll," has been a reliable, frequent face in Putin's war effort, delivering intense, often fabricated rants on state TV channel Russia-1 about Russia's military struggles, Western leaders and the Ukrainian army.
Skabeyeva has built her career over the last 15 years of the Putin regime, during which she served as the government's mouthpiece, experts told Insider's Michelle Mark earlier this year. She co-hosts the political talk show 60 Minutes on Russia-1 with her husband Yevgeny Popov, offering polarizing and divisive analysis and propaganda - albeit almost certainly Putin-approved.
In April, she sparked an international outcry after saying on television that Russia was in the midst of World War III, marking a notable shift in the Kremlin's acceptable rhetoric on Ukraine.
Sarah Oates, a professor and senior scholar at the University of Maryland's Philip Merrill College of Journalism, previously told Insider that Skabeyeva's inflammatory words were no coincidence, as Russian TV hosts often get their talking points directly from the government.
Vasily Gatov, a Russian media researcher and visiting fellow at the USC Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership and Policy, compared her to Fox News anchor Tucker Carlson and called her a "monster" in an April interview.
Elon Musk
Elon Musk. Michael Gonzalez/Getty Images
Tesla and SpaceX billionaire Elon Musk has been bringing Kremlin talking points to his 118 million followers on Twitter, the website he now owns, for the past few months.
On Oct. 3, Musk tweeted a poll proposing a Ukraine-Russia peace plan that would include holding elections in four Ukrainian territories Russia had allegedly annexed, widely decried as illegitimate and illegal. The plan also included recognizing Crimea, which Russia has illegally occupied since 2014, as part of Russia, keeping Ukraine neutral, and ensuring Crimea's water supply.
Musk's peace plan was so pro-Russia and specific to southern Ukraine's water rights that a top Russian analyst, Fiona Hill, said he had the Kremlin's fingerprints on it, though Musk has denied speaking to Putin.
Musk's tweet drew sharp criticism from Ukrainian officials, including President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who claimed the billionaire backed Putin. But Musk has continued to speak out about the war, including in a tweet stressing Crimea's importance to Russia's national security, another point pushed by the Kremlin.
donald trump
U.S. President Donald Trump (L) and Russia's President Vladimir Putin shake hands before attending a joint news conference after meeting at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki July 16, 2018.
Former President Donald Trump has often boasted of his close relationship with Putin and frequently downplayed the national security threat posed by Russia, ignoring warnings from US intelligence agencies.
In 2014, after Putin invaded Crimea, Trump praised the Russian president in a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference and said the rest of Ukraine would fall "pretty quickly." He later claimed that the people of Crimea would rather be with Russia.
When US intelligence agencies concluded that Russia had interfered in the 2016 election through an online disinformation and propaganda campaign to help Trump and hurt Hillary Clinton, Trump doubted it and accepted Putin's denials. He later acknowledged the interference, but often dismissed it or contradicted US information.
In 2019, Trump's first impeachment involved charges that he withheld aid from Ukraine, which was still at odds with Russia, to find dirt on Biden, his political opponent.
And since the war began, Trump has continued to push the Kremlin's talking points and praise Putin. When Russia invaded in February, Trump hailed Putin's justification for the invasion as "ingenious" and "savvy." In October, Trump appeared to shift the blame for Putin's invasion to the US leadership — right where the Russian president says it belongs.
"They actually mocked him, if you look closely, our country and our so-called leadership mocked Putin," Trump told right-wing network Real America's Voice. "I would listen, I would say, you know, they almost force him to respond to what they're saying. The rhetoric was so stupid.”
Trump also pushed for a peace deal between Ukraine and Russia after Putin threatened to use nuclear weapons, and thwarted Putin's plans in a way some pundits called "dangerous."
Tucker Carlson
Fox News host Tucker Carlson on December 7, 2021.Fox News
Fox News host Tucker Carlson has frequently repeated Putin's talking points by sharing them on "Tucker Carlson Tonight," one of cable news's most-watched shows. Just before Russia invaded Ukraine, Carlson devoted a 15-minute segment to talking about how the US shouldn't care about the looming conflict between the two countries.
He claimed the concern over the conflict is not to protect Ukraine, but because Democrats "want you to hate Putin" and NATO doesn't want Russia to exist. He also said that NATO's "sole goal is to stop the development of Russia," echoing Putin's claims.
He has also repeatedly attacked the country of Ukraine, whose citizens have launched a society-wide response and begun retaking areas seized by the Russian invaders, who left mass graves behind.
After the invasion, Carlson admitted that Putin and Russia were to blame, but continued to spread her messages to his vast audience. In March, a leaked memo showed that the Kremlin was even ordering Russian state media to play clips from Carlson's show "as much as possible," Mother Jones reported.
At various points, Carlson has defended Putin, downplayed the threat posed by Russia, repeated unsubstantiated and improbable claims by the Kremlin that the US was behind the sabotage of the Nord Stream pipelines, and falsely claimed that the US would only accuse Ukraine of " Help Repayment" Election 2016".
Read the original article on Business Insider

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