Both Putin and Kovalchuk are part of the Ozero group, a hugely powerful clique of friends
With the pandemic they have become inseparable, or almost. Vladimir Putin spent the spring and summer of 2020 in strict quarantine at his residence in Valdai, about halfway between Moscow and St. Petersburg. Inaccessibility and isolation that however someone has managed to penetrate. According to the writer and journalist Mikhail Zygar, one of the most attentive observers of the Kremlin, the chosen confidant is Yury Kovalchuk, a close friend of Putin since the 1990s, today the largest shareholder of Rossiya Bank and founder of National Media Group, a government propaganda conglomerate . According to Zygar’s sources, Yury Kovalchuk is the most influential figure in Putin’s entourage, making him “de facto the second man in Russia”.
Both Putin and Kovalchuk are part of the Ozero group, a hugely powerful clique of friends. At the end of the Cold War, when he returned to St. Petersburg, Putin built a country house a couple of hours’ drive north of the city. Seven friends, all businessmen, erected dachas nearby, and then turned their brotherhood into a community called Ozero (lake, in Russian).
Kovalchuk, a man of science (he has a doctorate in physics), is also a persuasive ideologist. His worldview, according to Mikhail Zygar, combines “Orthodox Christian mysticism, anti-American conspiracy theories and a splash of hedonism.” Putin may have roughly the same views. The two, says Zygar, have spent a lot of time together since the summer of 2020, and together they may have figured out how to restore Russia’s greatness.
In July 2021, Vladimir Putin published a 5,000-word essay, written in Russian, Ukrainian and English, entitled “On the historical unity of Russians and Ukrainians”. In addition to denying the existence of Ukraine as an independent nation, Putin claimed that the heirs of “Old Rus” (ie the Ukrainians) were duped by hostile powers and traitorous elites who turned them into something incompatible with the goals. of Russia. The faithful Vladislav Surkov, another ideologue, Putin’s personal advisor from 2013 to 2020, also entered this dubious historical overview. , has survived exclusively thanks to its tireless expansion beyond the borders ».
The philosopher Alexander Dugin, known as the Rasputin of the Kremlin, iron nationalist and bearded guardian of the most traditional Russian soul, also spoke on the theme of empire – but this time with the war already underway. Dugin said: “From epochs and epochs the Russian East has saved the Russian West from the non-Russian West.” And then: «Without Ukraine, Russia will never be an empire, with Ukraine it will be an empire». It is the syndrome of the besieged fortress, with enemy America in the lead, Zelenski and those who follow him in the role of despicable footmen, and Putin the man of providence.
Returning to the friends of the lake, Ozero’s group, Mikhail Zygar writes that Putin in recent years – and especially since the beginning of the pandemic – has cut off most of the contacts with advisers and friends. It seems that the news bothers him (this is what Zygar’s sources say), and that he instead he is obsessed with the past. He talked a lot about history with the person who was closest to him, that is his friend Kovalchuk, who in all probability thinks about the present and how, and also about his future. He has been hit several times by the sanctions rained down on him with Putin’s reckless moves abroad. But at least in the Crimea he bought two wine estates. And he is the first Russian bank to have opened branches on that disputed land.
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