Everything you need to know about silovarchs — Russia’s security elites — and the power they wield

Share this post
Listen to this article
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s close circle are siloviki.

  • Russia’s security elites are silovarchs, a term combining “oligarch” and “siloviki” (“people of force.”)
  • Daniel Treisman, who coined the term, told Insider about their influence and power. 
  • Analyst Hugo Crosthwaite said silovarchs are closer to President Vladimir Putin than oligarchs. 

Oligarchs, who are some of the world’s wealthiest individuals, have been under intense scrutiny since Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine in February and faced sanctions from US and other western nations.

Back in the 1990s, a new business elite, known as silovarchs, sprung up. This is an umbrella term coined in 2006 by Daniel Treisman, a professor of political science at the University of California, Los Angeles.

The term combines the words oligarch and siloviki. The latter translates as “people of force” and encompasses leading officials from the security services and law enforcement. 

According to Treisman, oligarchs do not hold a great deal of political influence, while silovarchs are more powerful.

Hugo Crosthwaite, a lead analyst at security intelligence firm Dragonfly, told Insider that siloviki are essentially part of Putin’s close circle. And as a former member of the KGB, now the FSB, the argument follows that the president himself would be a silovik.

“I think the important point with siloviki is that they are part and partial of President Putin’s regime and not a separate group aside from it,” Crosthwaite added. “Siloviki are ultimately closer to the president than oligarchs are.”

Who are the silovarchs?

Some of the most well-known silovarchs are veterans of the KGB, per Treisman and Crosthwaite.

Despite not coming from a security background, Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller is one because the state-controlled energy supplier is part of the silovarch empire.

Considered the strongest influence in Russia after Vladimir Putin and a close confidant to the president, Igor Sechin is CEO of Rosneft, an oil company used as one of Putin’s key geopolitical tools. In the mid-1980s, Sechin served as a military interpreter in Mozambique and Angola.

Vladimir Yakunin, a former general and one of the most ideological silovarchs, called for closer ties between the Slavic nations and a revival of Orthodox Christian values, Treisman said. He is the former president of Russian Railways and previously worked in the transport ministry. 

The son of FSB chief Nikolai Patrushev, FSB captain Andrei Patrushev was appointed Sechin’s personal adviser at Rosneft and is now Gazprom Neft’s CEO. 

Here’s a list of all other individuals who would be considered silovarchs, determined by their previous or current involvement in the armed forces or intelligence groups, as well as Treisman’s thorough research. 

Table of Silovarchs 

Viktor Ivanov – former chair of the board for Almaz-Antei and Aeroflot – had a career in Soviet KGB and Russian FSB. 

Mikhail Fradkov – former head of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Office and former prime minister – served as an engineer interpreter for the Soviet Union’s embassy in India. 

Sergei Chemezov – general director of Rostec – is a former spy. 

Rashid Nurgaliev– former interior minister and deputy secretary of the Security Council – is Army General and worked for the FSB. 

Viktor Zubkov – Chair of Gazprom’s board and former prime minister – is a Russian civil servant. 

Vladimir Kolokoltsev – Interior Minister and former Moscow police commissioner – is Lieutenant-General (police). 

Sergei Ivanov– Special Presidential Representative for Environmental Protection, Ecology, and Transport – is a former intelligence officer of the KGB.

Viktor Cherkesov – director of the federal anti-drug service – is Lieutenant-General. 

Nikolai Tokarev – president of Transneft – is a former KGB agent. 

Viktor Ivanov – former director of the Russian federal drug control service and former chairman of Almaz-Antei – is a former KGB officer.

Source: Daniel Treisman, and Open-Source Intelligence. 

How powerful are silovarchs? 

The silovarchs control companies through positions in management or on supervisory boards. Treisman said the siloviki see their mission as fixing the problems the oligarchs created — to restore respect for law enforcement, enhance presidential powers, and clean up the media, and political parties. 

Silovarchs see themselves as protectors of the Russian state. “When we look at the overall positions that they occupy, we can say with some confidence that they clearly have a considerable amount of sway within the Russian state – and the overall system that person sits at the top of,” Crosthwaite said. 

The system that Putin has constructed means that “proximity to him is vital to safeguard one’s own interests as a member of the siloviki,” he said. 

“Essentially, it’s a very narrow, small decision-making group around the president that is ultimately the source of power.”

Read the original article on Business Insider