Paranoid Putin reinforces his national guard with a unit of special forces and Wagner veterans

Russian President Vladimir Putin

Russian President Vladimir Putin has decided to strengthen the National Guard – Shutterstock

Vladimir Putin has reinforced his national guard with his own elite special forces unit, as well as tanks, fighter jets and artillery, to protect him from another rebellion.

The Russian president personally ordered the Interior Ministry’s Grom special forces unit to come under the command of the National Guard, according to Alexander Khinshtein, a deputy from Putin’s United Russia party.

“By decision of the President, the Grom unit is transferred to the Russian National Guard together with personnel and the entire infrastructure,” he said.

Grom, which means “thunder” in English, has a reputation for carrying out tough, no-nonsense operations to capture gang leaders and has around 7,000 troops.

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

It is led by his loyal former bodyguard, Viktor Zolotov, and has 320,000 troops, previously seen as a cross between armed police and militia units whose primary role was to crush anti-Kremlin protesters.

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

Russian soldiers await Russian President Vladimir Putin's speech at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, June 27, 2023, as he addresses units of the Russian Defense Ministry, Russian National Guard (Rosgvardiya), Russian Interior Ministry, Russian Federal Security Service and Russian Federal Guard Service, which 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 that ensured order and legality during the Wagner-Sputnik mutiny

The Vedomosti newspaper also reported that Putin was using Grom to attract disenchanted Wagner veterans who did not want to travel to Belarus to join other mercenaries in exile.

Ben Noble, associate professor of Russian politics at University College London, said it was an attempt by Putin to “protect the Kremlin from a coup”.

“The Kremlin is likely revealing its concern about possible future national challenges to its power,” he said. “The Prigozhin mutiny has increased the level of uncertainty regarding elite and popular support for the regime.”

It took just two days for the Russian parliament to approve changes to the status of the Russian National Guard earlier this week.

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

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

“It’s important,” said Andrei Soldatov, an expert with the Russian security services. “Putin is restoring the command and control of the special forces after the Prigozhin mutiny.”

Others suggested the move was a way to reward Putin’s longtime ally and former bodyguard.

“Another victory for Viktor Zolotov,” said John Hardie, deputy director of the Russia program at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, which is an American think tank. “It was the last special police unit of the Ministry of the Interior.”

Broaden your horizons with award-winning British journalism. Try The Telegraph free for 1 month, then get a year for just $9 with our exclusive US offer.

Leave a Comment