It was reported that current President of Russia Vladimir Putin is already thinking of a person who might replace him.
Vladimir Putin is grooming an action man ‘military hero’ in his own image as his heir apparent, according to speculation in Moscow.
Deputy defense minister Alexei Dyumin, 43, was this week handed the job of governor of Tula region, as previously unknown details of his ‘courage’ were suddenly leaked to the media.
He was formerly a bodyguard and Putin’s trusted aide-de-camp while also playing goalkeeper in the Kremlin strongman’s own ice hockey club.
One commentator claimed his main duty was to ‘let in goals’ in a ‘delicate and polite way’ so Putin could be seen on TV hitting the puck into the net.
But he was also identified as the man who led the clandestine operation to spirit disgraced Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych out of his country and into Russia as a pro-western revolution gripped Kiev in 2014.
The same year Dyumin commanded the Special Operations Forces of the Russian Army which played a pivotal role in seizing Crimea from Ukraine, it was revealed.
Putin awarded him the Hero of Russia honour for courage, and he was promoted to deputy head of infantry with the rank of General.
According to some accounts, he had a brief stint as deputy head of GRU military intelligence.
Then – only two months ago – he was made deputy defence minister under Putin’s close ally Sergey Shoygu.
Dyumin’s sudden fast tracking to become governor of strategically important Tula – an area larger than Wales – is seen as a bid by Putin to give him political experience running a region ahead of another meteoric promotion.
Veteran TV and radio presenter Sergey Dorenko, chief editor of Govorit Moskva radio, said yesterday he believed Dyumin was being groomed as eventual successor to Putin.
‘I place my bet on Dyumin, without doubt,’ said Dorenko, a seasoned observer of the Kremlin who fell out with Putin after refusing to work for him.
He put him ahead of two other potential candidates to succeed Putin – premier Dmitry Medvedev, 50, who served as president for four years between 2008 and 2012, and Andrey Vorobyov, 45, currently governor of Moscow region.
Political blogger Anton Orekh – who made the ice hockey allegations – said it was clear Putin’s trusted Dyumin completely although the rise of an ex-bodyguard resembled promoting Caligula’s horse to the senate.
But he said: ‘It is logical to trust those who are so close to you.’
One account of Dyumin’s career was headlined: ‘He is always somewhere next to Putin.’
There is hardly any public talk of the Kremlin succession in Moscow, but 63-year-old Putin must decide soon whether to run for a new six year term in 2018, or manoeuvre a trusted heir into position.
He is expected to run but then hand over to a successor before completing the full term.
Dyumin admitted he was only told of the latest move in his dazzling career on Wednesday.
‘It was such a sudden thing for me, honestly, I did not expect it at all,’ he said.
‘I happened to go and see Vladimir Vladimirovich (Putin), and this is where this decision was made.
‘I am a military man. If my Motherland says “go ahead”, I reply “Yes”.’
Asked if he was happy with his appointment, he replied: ‘Yes of course. It would be wrong not to be.’
Dyumin has served Putin at close quarters, travelling with him in his official car as aide-de-camp.
On one Putin macho adventure stunt in 2010 to take skin samples from a grey whale off the Russian pacific coast, it was Dyumin who held Putin by the waist on an inflatable raft as the president fired darts from a crossbow at the mammal, hitting it at the fourth attempt.