The ‘next Putin’: Alexander Bortnikov, one of ‘three men’ on earth in control of Novichok

Putin is a 'weak' strategic player in warfare says expert

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Alexander Bortnikov has emerged as a key figure of interest during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. As one of Putin’s top security chiefs – a group collectively known as the ‘Siloviki’ – the ex-KGB spy has been touted as a replacement for the Kremlin strongman. Bortnikov is head of Russia’s state security agency, the Federal Security Service (FSB) – the main successor organisation to the Soviet-era KGB.

In his role leading the powerful security agency, the FSB chief is one of “three men” in control of Novichok.

The nerve agent was used in the Salisbury poisonings in which one person died, and was allegedly the chemical used to poison Russian opposition leader and anti-Putin campaigner Alexey Navalny in August 2020.

Navalny, who was in a coma and on a ventilator in a hospital intensive care unit after the attack, later opened up about Bortnikov’s involvement in the poisoning.

Speaking to German magazine Der Spiegel in his first interview since the attack, he said: “I assert that Putin was behind the crime, and I have no other explanation for what happened.

“Only three people can give orders to put into action ‘active measures’ and use Novichok.

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“Those who know Russian states of affairs also know: FSB director Alexander Bortnikov, foreign intelligence service head Sergey Naryshkin and the director of GRU [Igor Kostyukov] cannot make such a decision without Putin’s orders.”

Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied claims that the Kremlin was involved in the poisoning.

Navalny claimed Putin was using methods such as chemical warfare to maintain his grip on Russia and avoid civil unrest against its leadership as had happened in neighbouring Belarus.

He said: “The Kremlin notices that it needs to take extreme measures to avoid a ‘Belarusian scenario.

“The system is fighting for survival, and we have just started to feel the consequences.”

Navalny’s poisoning prompted the UK and the US to sanction Bortnikov, alongside other top Russian officials.

The US Treasury claimed he was “involved in the political prosecutions of opponents of President Vladimir Putin’s regime and operates as a key political enforcer”.

Bortnikov has been a key figure during Putin’s presidency, with the two men having served together in Leningrad – now Saint Petersburg – in the Seventies.

However, the spy chief has been considering poisoning his boss over Russia’s faltering invasion, according to remarkable claims by Ukraine’s intelligence agency from March.

The agency wrote on its official Facebook page: “Their goal is to remove Putin from power as soon as possible and restore economic ties with the West, destroyed due to the war in Ukraine.

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“It is known that Bortnikov and some other influential representatives of the Russian elite are considering various options to remove Putin from power.

“In particular, poisoning, sudden disease, or any other ‘coincidence’ is not excluded.”

Since being appointed as FSB chief in 2008, Bortnikov is said to have wielded a reign of terror over the organisation.

Bortnikov was also accused of being involved in the plot to assassinate Alexander Litvinenko in 2006.

In February 2007, Russian magazine The New Times claimed that Bortnikov had “allegedly been appointed overseer” in the murder of the former Russian spy in London.

Although Bortnikov has been one of Putin’s close confidants for decades, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has exposed cracks in the pair’s relationship.

The Russian President is said to be unhappy with what he deems to be the FSB’s intelligence failings over the conflict.

An intelligence source told the Mirror: “It is noteworthy that Bortnikov has recently been disgraced by the Russian dictator.

“The official reason for the disgrace of the FSB leader – fatal miscalculations in the war against Ukraine.

“Bortnikov and his department were responsible for analysing the mood of Ukraine and the ability of the Ukrainian army.”

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