In Russia, „siloviki“ refers to politicians or people with political influence who were previously intelligence officers, in the military, or the like.
The word „siloviki“ literally means „man of force“ in english.
In Russia, the siloviki are close advisors to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Who are the Silowiki? Meaning, definition, explanation
The military invasion of Ukraine has managed, among other things, to bring to light some of the internal divisions at the top of the Kremlin.
While President Vladimir Putin has become the face and symbol of this war and all that lies behind it, he is not acting alone, and some observers say that his inner circle is characterized by people who firmly believe in war. And although at first glance one might assume that this circle includes some of the richest people and energy oligarchs – people who have control over a whole range of economic levers in Russia, this is not the case.
Some commentators believe that Putin despises these oligarchs and that his relations with them are based solely on mutual interests. The wealthy are probably far removed from the president’s actual inner circle and have no way of influencing his decisions, especially when it comes to the war in Ukraine and Russia’s foreign policy.
Instead, Putin consults with a circle of individuals known as the „siloviki“ – military and intelligence officials who strongly support his actions in Ukraine and were themselves involved in drafting the plan for the Russian invasion.
These individuals are part of the Russian leader’s closest – and at the moment probably only – entourage.
Ideology of the Siloviki
The ideology of the siloviki is patriotism, which is the self-justification for their wealth, commented the Financial Times. The author recounts a conversation he had with a former Soviet official. „You know,“ he mused, „in Soviet times, most of us were really happy to have a Lada, a color TV, access to specialty stores selling Western goods, and vacations in Sochi. We felt very comfortable and only compared ourselves to the rest of the population, not to the Western elites.“
The siloviki, of course, are wedded to the idea of social order, but it is a prerequisite for staying in power and, in their view, is essential to prevent Russia from returning to the chaos of the 1990s, the Russian Revolution, and civil war. The siloviki believe that the war in Ukraine will unite Russian society and are aware that it will push Russia toward China. Ukraine’s place in this doctrine is summed up by Zbigniew Brzeziński’s phrase: „Without Ukraine, Russia ceases to be a Eurasian empire.“
Silowiki: People / Persons
Igor Ivanovich Sechin
Most of the siloviki were part of the intelligence services and are now supporters of rapprochement with China, Western media write. Their informal leader is considered to be Igor Sechin, who, according to The Guardian newspaper, has daily access to Vladimir Putin, and that makes him extremely powerful. Moreover, the head of state’s contacts have been limited in the past two years because of the pandemic and now because of the war in Ukraine. Sechin is president of oil giant Rosneft and is considered the second most influential man in Russia. His company provides 40% of the country’s military budget – 1.8 trillion rubles in 2020, adds The Guardian. How much the budget was increased by during the war is unclear, but Igor Sechin’s place among Russia’s elite is assured. The local press calls him Darth Vader. He served as deputy head of the presidential administration from 1999 to 2008 and then as deputy prime minister for four years. The friendship between Sechin and Putin dates back to the early 1990s, when they traveled to Brazil together, Reuters reports. Both are from St. Petersburg.
His past, however, is shrouded in mystery. It is known that he worked as a military interpreter in Angola and Mozambique. Sechin himself denies having played a leading role in the siloviki circle. Shortly after the announcement of sanctions against Russian oligarchs in the resort town of La Ciotat, France seized a yacht worth 120 million euros said to belong to him. Amore Vero had arrived there in January for repairs. Her former name was „Princess Olga,“ as Sechin’s second wife Olga Rozhkova is known. The yacht was renamed after the two separated in 2017. Sechin never acknowledged ownership of the vessel, but Novaya Gazeta newspaper showed photos on Instagram of his ex-wife on the 86-meter yacht, of all things, in which she traveled from port to port. According to the French government, Sechin is the owner of the offshore company that owns the Amore Vero.
Sergei Shoigu – Minister of Defense of the Russian Federation.
Shoigu has been General of the Russian Army and Minister of Defense since 2012; prior to that, he was Minister of Emergencies until 1991. Shoigu also heads Russia’s GRU military intelligence agency, which is blamed by the West for the poisonings of former Russian agent Sergei Skripal in Britain and opposition leader Alexei Nawalny. Sergei Shoigu was also in charge of the 2014 invasion of Crimea.
„Shoigu is responsible not only for the military and the army, but also in part for enforcing and maintaining the ideological part, especially in historical terms,“ Russian security expert Andrei Soldatov told the BBC.
It is also Shoigu who is (currently) seen as the most likely possible successor to Putin if he decides one day to step down from power.
Silowiki: Valery Vasilyevich Gerasimov
Gerasimov has been chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces since 2012, deputy defense minister, and a member of the Russian Federation Security Council.
As such, he has played a major role in Putin’s military campaigns – since the war in Chechnya and also in the annexation of Crimea. And now he has personally overseen the military exercises in Belarus that preceded the invasion of Ukraine.
Some say it is unclear how much trust Gerasimov still has in Putin, especially after the original plan to quickly take over Ukraine fell through. Others, however, say Putin had not lost him at that point.
Shoigu and Gerasimov were the two Putin asked to put Russia’s „containment forces“ on standby, which they both emphatically said yes to.
Gerasimov is also credited with a doctrine for achieving Russian strategic goals that includes military, technological, informational, diplomatic, economic, and cultural tactics.
Siloviki: Nikolai Platonovich Patrushev
He is the chairman of the Russian Security Council. He served in the KGB and then headed the successor organization, the FSB, from 1999 to 2008. Patrushev has been at Putin’s side since the 1970s, when the future president worked for the KGB in St. Petersburg. The other two with whom Putin has worked closely since that time are intelligence chief Alexander Bortnikov and intelligence chief Sergei Naryshkin.
„Patrushev is the biggest hawk who believes the West has been trying to subjugate Russia for years,“ Ben Noble, professor of Russian politics at University College London, told the BBC.
In 2015, he was a professor at the University of London. Patrushev told Kommersant that „the U.S. would prefer Russia not to exist as a state at all.“
Patrushev considers Ukraine a „clone of the West“ and the revolution there a product of deliberate U.S. efforts to distance the country from Russia. „An entire generation was taught there to hate Russia and believe in the myth of „European values,“ he told Rossiyskaya Gazeta in 2014.
In 2016, following the British Ministry of Justice’s investigation into the poisoning of KGB and FSB agent Alexander Litvinenko, Judge Robert Owen declared that the killing „was probably approved by Russian President Putin and the director of intelligence services, Nikolai Patrushev.“
Patrushev accompanies Putin on his favorite trips to Siberia to hunt and fish and, in some people’s opinion, has the most importance compared to the rest of Putin’s entourage.