Paranoid Putin bolsters his National Guard with special forces unit and Wagner veterans

Russian President Vladimir Putin

Russian President Vladimir Putin has moved to bolster the National Guard – Shutterstock

Vladimir Putin has reinforced his National Guard with its own elite special forces unit, as well as tanks, warplanes, and artillery, to protect him from another rebellion.

The Russian president personally ordered the Interior Ministry’s Grom special forces unit to move under the command of the National Guard, according to Alexander Khinshtein, an MP for Putin’s United Russia party.

“By the decision of the president, the Grom unit is transferred to the Russian National Guard along with the staff and the entire infrastructure,” he said.

Grom, which means ‘thunder’ in English, has a reputation for tough no-nonsense operations capturing gangland leaders and has around 7,000 men.

Putin created the National Guard in 2016 and ordered it to report directly to him, rather than to the Ministry of Defence, leading analysts to describe it as his “Praetorian Guard.”

It is headed by his loyal former bodyguard, Viktor Zolotov, and has 320,000 men, previously viewed as a cross between armed police and militia units whose main role had been to crush anti-Kremlin protesters.

However, since a rebellion by the Wagner mercenary leader Yevgeny Prigozhin last month, Putin’s thinking has changed, and he is now believed to be worried about the loyalty of his security services and military officers.

Russian soldiers wait for the speech of Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, June 27, 2023 as he addresses the units of the Russian Defense Ministry, the Russian National Guard (Rosgvardiya), the Russian Interior Ministry, the Russian Federal Security Service and the Russian Federal Guard Service, who ensured order and legality during the mutiny.

Russian servicemen wait for President Putin at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia on June 27, 2023 before his address to the units who ensured order and legality during the Wagner mutiny – Sputnik

The Vedomosti newspaper also reported that Putin was using Grom to attract disenchanted former Wagner fighters who didn’t want to travel to Belarus to join other mercenaries in exile.

Ben Noble, Associate Professor of Russian Politics at University College London, said that this was an attempt by Putin to “coup-proof the Kremlin.”

“The Kremlin is likely revealing its worry about possible future domestic challenges to its rule,” he said. “Prigozhin’s mutiny has raised the level of uncertainty concerning elite and popular support for the regime.”

It took Russia’s parliament only two days to approve the changes to the Russian National Guard’s status earlier this week.

In a statement, it said that the National Guard can now be armed with “military equipment” to “suppress the activities of illegal armed groups.”

Analysts said the addition of the Grom troops would add another important capability to the National Guard.

“This is significant,” said Andrei Soldatov, an expert on Russia’s security services. “Putin is straightening the special forces’ command and control after Prigozhin’s mutiny.”

Others suggested the move was a way of rewarding Putin’s long-term ally and former bodyguard.

“Another win for Viktor Zolotov,” said John Hardie, deputy director of the Russia program at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, which is a US think tank. “They were the Interior Ministry’s last special police unit.”

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