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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

Will Putin's Quiet Bodyguard Replace Him As Russian President?

Alexei Dyumin, a former bodyguard of Russian President Vladimir Putin, has been touted as a likely successor to the man he once protected. Russian independent news outlet Important Stories takes a closer look at a man who prefers to keep a low profile.

Russia's Tula Region Governor Alexei Dyumin seen before a Night Hockey League friendly match at the GUM ice rink in Red Square.

Initially, Dyumin aspired to become a professional hockey player, but his father persuaded him that a military career offered more stability.

MOSCOW — To say that Alexei Dyumin has had quite a career rise would be putting it mildly. The former bodyguard of Vladimir Putin is now governor of the region of Tula in west Russia, south of Moscow. Recently, he was mentioned as a possible new Russian Defense Minister, and even as a successor to Putin.

How exactly Dyumin transitioned from a military unit member to the security guard of some of the highest-ranking state officials remains a mystery.

So who is Alexei Dyumin? That's a tricky question to answer.


Putin's infantryman

Initially, Dyumin aspired to become a professional hockey player, but his father persuaded him that a military career offered more stability. In the mid-1990s, Dyumin attended the Higher Military Engineering School in Voronezh and then joined a small reconnaissance unit near Moscow.

Dyumin himself claims that he received an offer from "an acquaintance who worked in human resources" at the security services. Either way, he started working in a team that served then-Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and was frequently sent on business trips with former Russian President Boris Yeltsin.

Dyumin then told the Presidential Security Service unit that he would like to join them. He underwent training in hand-to-hand combat, shooting pistols and rifles, be it on the move, on the run, or from a vehicle. With his training completed, he was tasked with the protection of Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin and, in 1999, then-Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who would soon be chosen to succeed the top man in Russia — president Yeltsin.

Dyumin's role went beyond tackling life-threatening encounters.

In his own words, Dyumin became Putin's “infantryman” and remained his protector as Putin rose to become Russia's president in 2000. This period was fraught with concerns for the president's safety due to terrorist attacks related to the Second Chechen War. At least four serious assassination attempts on Putin were known to have taken place between 2000 and 2001, involving plots featuring snipers and suicide bombers.

Tula Region Governor Alexei Dyumin visits a military training session of the Tula Battalion that consists of contracted Russian Army servicemen.

After two terms as president, Vladimir Putin reclaimed the post of prime minister in 2008. It was then that Dyumin had become Putin's personal adjutant, according to the media, although Dyumin himself denied this claim in his interview with Kommersant.

Tula Region Government/TASS/ZUMA

Protecting Putin from a bear

But his duties as a security guard were not limited to protecting Putin from carefully thought-out threats.

Speaking to Kommersant, Alexei Dyumin recounted an incident when he stood guard in front of Putin's chamber at a presidential residence somewhere “in the mountains".

“The President was already sleeping when I got a call from the station, saying a bear is at the entrance,” Dyumin said. “At first I thought it was a joke, I went to the door, and I saw a large bear in front of me. The doors were made out of glass, I am armed of course, and the President is just upstairs ... So, the bear and I locked eyes, he took a step back, and I opened the door and discharged the entire clip of the pistol under his feet.”

“The bear turned out to be very smart. He understood that I spared him, turned around, and slowly wandered off," Dyumin added. "In the morning, I reported to the President, who said I did well for not shooting the bear.”

Of course, Dyumin's role went beyond tackling life-threatening encounters.

“One might think that everything is glamorous for [security] guys. That they simply accompany the President, stand around him, and then leave,” he says. “They actively prepare trips, visits, participate in meetings, including with foreigners, and are engaged in ensuring the safety of guests.”

After two terms as president, Vladimir Putin reclaimed the post of prime minister in 2008. It was then that Dyumin had become Putin's personal adjutant, according to the media, although Dyumin himself denied this claim in his interview with Kommersant.

No simple bodyguard

Whether as Prime Minister or again as President, Putin has consistently put great emphasis on his security, entrusting former KGB officer Viktor Zolotov with leading the presidential security team. According to Novaya Gazeta, Zolotov would reward loyal bodyguards and their families with valuable land plots near Putin's residences, and this also extended to Dyumin – who considered Zolotov as something of a mentor – and Dyumin’s family.

Overall, the Dyumin family received 0.92 hectares of land valued at almost half a billion rubles ($ 5,5 million). Only the Deputy Minister of Defense, Alexander Kolpakov (0.93 hectares), the Deputy Director of the Federal Security Service (FSO), Nikolai Kondratyuk (1.8 hectares), and Zolotov's own family (2 hectares) received more, indicating Dyumin's high position in the hierarchy, and that he was no simple bodyguard.

Gradually, Putin became more concerned about opposition, popular unrest, and external enemies rather than terrorists. He surrounded himself with personal bodyguards and bolstered their standing in the Russian political apparatus. Apart from land, presidential bodyguards were granted high-ranking state positions.

In the days after the aborted mutiny, some believed Dyumin would take over.

Viktor Zolotov, for example, became the head of the National Guard of Russia in 2016.

In 2014, Alexei Dyumin was appointed deputy head of the foreign military intelligence agency GRU, in charge of special operations. That same year, the unit was instrumental in the Russian annexation of Crimea, which Dyumin may have had a direct hand in planning. In the aftermath of the Ukrainian Revolution of Dignity, he also allegedly organized the evacuation of ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. Dyumin denied both allegations.

In late 2015, Dyumin acted briefly as Deputy Defense Minister before Putin appointed him governor of the Tula region in 2016. During his governance, the region's economy continued to grow.

Russian President Vladimir Putin holds a face-to-face meeting with the Governor of the Tula Region Alexei Dyumin, right, to discuss the economic situation in the Republic, at the Kremlin.

Dyumin is not only Putin’s infantryman but also his goalkeeper, as he frequently plays hockey with Putin and other high-ranking officials, like Russian Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu.

Mikhail Klimentyev/Kremlin Pool/Planet Pix/ZUMA

From bodyguard to Defense Minister? 

Likely compounding his loyalty to Putin with rumors of successful operations in Ukraine and efficient governance of Tula, observers began to predict a shining political future for 50-year-old Dyumin. In 2017, experts from the Petersburg Politics Foundation put Dyumin in third place in the ranking of Putin's potential successors. Only former president Dmitry Medvedev and Moscow mayor Sergei Sobyanin were considered more likely to take over from Putin.

Dyumin is not only Putin’s infantryman but also his goalkeeper, as he frequently plays hockey with Putin and other high-ranking officials, like Russian Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu.

But Dyumin’s relationship with the latter might have gone south following the Wagner insurrection. The short-lived Wagner mutiny has led to much discussion about the future of the Russian defense minister Shoigu, who was one of the targets of Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin’s rebellion. Although Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko got the official credit for persuading Prigozhin to stand down, Important Stories sources close to military circles revealed that Dyumin was indeed present during the decisive part of the negotiations.

This is because Dyumin is well acquainted with Prigozhin. Dyumin's brother-in-law, Vladimir Mikheichik, heads the state military cargo airline "224th Flight Detachment", which has been under sanctions since 2021 due to its connections with the Wagner mercenary group, which it likely supplies with military supplies.

Speculation that Shoigu stepped down from his current position was rampant, but slowly subsided as Shoigu continued to appear publicly in his defense minister role. But in the days after the aborted mutiny, some believed Dyumin would take over, with some directly writing that Dyumin would soon be appointed Defense Minister.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine divided Dyumin’s family, with many of his Ukrainian relatives now wishing Putin dead and supporting the Ukrainian army. Dyumin, on the other hand, unequivocally expressed his support for the war.

"We support the decisions made by the President of the Russian Federation regarding the special operation,” he said in April 2022. “We are confident in victory, which is close."

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