Member of Putin's Presidential Support Team Defects, What Can That Tell Us About the War in Ukraine?

Sergey Guneev, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP

On October 14, 2022, Russian President Vladimir Putin was finishing up an intense two-day trip to Astana, Kazakhstan. He was there to attend a series of regional summits and lord it over inferior nations. His trip began with the 6th Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA). That was followed by a meeting of the Council of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) heads of state. The whole affair finished up the first-ever Russia – Central Asia summit.


Member of Putin's Presidential Support Team Defects, What Can That Tell Us About the War in Ukraine?
Putin in Astana, Kazakhstan.

A One-Way Ticket to Istanbul

Around 3 p.m ., PUtin’s official schedule ended, and support staff was released to go shopping and sightseeing.

One of the members of Putin’s security and support detail was Captain Gleb Karakulov, a communications engineer in the Presidential Communications Directorate of the Federal Guard Service. His job was directly supporting Putin and his advisers with classified and encrypted communications. Though he could go shopping, on this day, he had other plans. As his colleagues took a brief break at the end of two stressful days, Karakulov, along with his wife, daughter, and three suitcases, headed for the airport in Astana to use their one-way tickets to Istanbul.

Member of Putin's Presidential Support Team Defects, What Can That Tell Us About the War in Ukraine?

As his colleagues and superiors tried desperately to contact him when he missed a security check-in, Karakulov first pled an upset stomach, then, as his plane got airborne, turned off his cell phone.

A Trusted Staff Member

Karakulov is not an everyday defector.

As an engineer in a field unit of the presidential communications department of the Federal Protective Service, or FSO, Karakulov was responsible for setting up secure communications for the Russian president and prime minister wherever they went. While he was not a confidant of Putin’s, Karakulov spent years in his service, observing him from unusually close quarters from 2009 through late 2022.

Karakulov moved as part of an advance team, often with enough specialized communications equipment to fill a KAMAZ truck. He said he has taken more than 180 trips with the Russian president…


And the Russians are not happy with him.

AP also confirmed that Karakulov is listed as a wanted man in the Russian Interior Ministry’s public database of criminal suspects. The Interior Ministry initiated a criminal investigation against Karakulov on October 26 for desertion during a time of military mobilization, according to documents obtained by the Dossier Center and seen by the AP.

We aren’t told how, but at some point, Karakulov was contacted by, or put in contact with, the London-based Dossier Center, a non-profit focused on exposing corruption and maladministration in Russia. He agreed to more than six hours of interviews. Some of the highlights are on the video below, and more of the transcripts are available in the article “The Russian President is a war criminal” Interview with the Federal Guard Service officer who worked with Putin and who fled Russia.

AP claims to have independently verified Karakulov’s identity.

The Ukraine War Caused the Flight

Karakulov is an ideological defector. He had a long period of progressive disenchantment with the Putin regime as he saw the opulent lifestyle of the regime elite and compared it to that of himself and his countrymen. The invasion of Ukraine was the last straw for him and moved his wife from being against defection to agreeing to leave Russia.


— When did you tell your wife that you’d decided to quit?

I must have told her right then, on 24 February.

— Did she seriously believe that you were ready to leave?

I don’t think so. I can’t answer for her, but she must have been in a state of disbelief. I mean, how come, we have just had some work done on our flat, [a new] kitchen, our car, and so on and so forth? Her whole family live in Russia, and she was supposed to give it all up, somehow? I think she simply wasn’t ready to take that in.

But a month or so later, she did. She also watches the news. She realised that no good could come of it, ever. That at the very least, it was her duty to do something for the sake of our child’s future, if anything. I asked her if she was ready [to flee]. I wouldn’t do it alone. In August, when I was away on a business trip, she was able to spend some time on her own, in peace. We don’t get much time to spend on our own. She must have understood it then. She said, ‘That’s it, I’m ready, come on, let’s not beat about the bush.’

What makes him believable is that he doesn’t try to sell the standard Putin tropes. He says that Putin is healthy and not suffering from any chronic ailment. He says Putin is a very hard worker. He is also very concerned about personal safety. He doesn’t use a phone or the Internet. He doesn’t trust flying and travels in a train painted to look exactly like any other Russian passenger train. He confirms that since 2022, Putin has gotten all his information from a trusted inner circle. He says his colleagues supported the war, and many thought Russia should have invaded in 2014. They are all very loyal to Putin.

What Does His Interview Tell Us?

So, assuming this is all accurate, what does it mean?

Putin is a healthy 70-year-old man who maintains a mistress.

He is obsessed with security and has the unquestioning loyalty of a presidential protection detail that seems to be invested in a Russian victory on the battlefield. He trusts no one outside his inner circle; all information he receives comes through them. This could explain why he allows Prigozhin and Shoigu/Gerasmiov to feud because, with two feuding camps, he’s likely to hear all the bad stuff.

All of this says that he’s very unlikely to agree to any negotiated settlement of his war in Ukraine unless it is obvious that he won a military victory because that would be the quickest way to lose loyalty. We can’t assume that he knows what is going on strategically because no one has a vested interest in telling him when things aren’t going when it could be perceived as criticism of Putin.

Implications for the Ukraine War

In my view, the upshot of this is that the incrementalist strategy of supplying Ukraine with arms that has been pushed by Germany’s Olaf Scholz and adopted by Lloyd Austin and Antony Blinken simply guarantees a frozen conflict. Any hope that Putin will die or be overthrown and that will end the war in Ukraine is just wishcasting. If we aren’t willing to give Ukraine the support it needs to win the war militarily, there is no evidence that Putin will ever agree to a negotiated solution.



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