What We Know About Vladimir Putin's Elite Bodyguards

It's been reported over the years that Russian President Vladimir Putin is extremely cautious when it comes to his security and health. According to the New York Post, Putin has taken extreme measures to keep from getting sick during the COVID-19 pandemic, maintaining large distances between himself and anyone he meets with, including foreign dignitaries and even his own advisors. It was also reported that the Russian president donned a hazmat suit and a full-face respirator while visiting a hospital in 2020.

Another major concern for Putin is the threat of assassination attempts or coups. He is a former KGB agent, so it should come as no surprise when it comes to his own security, he's got some tricks up his sleeve. He surrounds himself with protection in the form of bodyguards, who are quick to act if they fear their president is in danger, as mixed martial artist Conor McGregor found out in 2018 when he put his hand on Putin's shoulder, according to Sportskeeda.

The early days of the Musketeers

According to the New York Post, Putin's bodyguards are part of the Federal Protective Service. The special unit refers to themselves as the Musketeers, and they've been around a long time. The unit can be traced back to the 19th century when they were tasked with protecting Czar Alexander III (above). The czar considered this a necessary step because his father, Russian emperor Alexander II, had been assassinated.

Alexander II's assassination was carried out by a terrorist organization that called itself the People's Will (via Britannica). The goal of People's Will was to overthrow the government. They assassinated the Russian emperor with a bomb on the streets of St. Petersburg, per History. This successful assassination attempt only came after several failed attempts in which the People's Will tried to shoot the emperor, derail his train, and blow up his palace.

According to Russia Beyond, (which the New York Post points out is run by TV-Novosti, which also runs Russia's television channel RT), Putin's bodyguards make up ​the "best-staffed and best-trained team in the country."

Who can be selected as one of Putin's bodyguards?

It would seem like combat experience would be an important trait to look for if you're a world leader looking to hire a team of highly-trained, elite bodyguards. For Putin, apparently, this isn't the case. "It is unlikely that the president's security guard will have to arrange ambushes on mountain trails or jump with a parachute," a former president's security employee told Russia Beyond. "Combat experience is useful, but it's often not applicable in our work. During war, you attack. And a bodyguard should only protect the dignitary from someone invisible."

Russia Beyond also mentions that former police officers don't fit the bill either, since they are "trained to apprehend," while a bodyguard's work doesn't necessarily involve apprehending any would-be attackers. Their job is to protect the president.

Potential bodyguards are required to be good at anticipating possible threats, have to be under 35 years old, must be between about 5 feet, 9 inches and 6 feet, 3 inches tall, and need to weigh between 165 and 200 pounds. According to the New York Post, it's believed that upon reaching age 35, guards are replaced and often handed jobs elsewhere in the Russian government. Other requisite qualities include stamina, foreign language skills, and basic familiarity with politics and politicians.

What do Putin's bodyguards do?

As to what Putin's bodyguards do, the obvious answer is they protect the Russian President. Much like the United States Secret Service, however, that process sometimes starts months before Putin arrives.

According to the New York Post, Putin's security detail scouts locations ahead of time. There they run through worst-case scenarios that could play out, by gauging the area and the public's behavior and sometimes even planning for hypothetical situations involving natural disasters. Putin's security detail inspects anywhere he will be staying. This includes active surveillance on electronic devices like cellphones. They install jamming devices to prevent bombs from being remotely detonated.

It should come as no surprise that Putin's guards are armed to the teeth. According to Russia Beyond, guards carry 9mm Gurza pistols which can fire 40 rounds per minute with such velocity and force that they can penetrate armor at a substantial distance. Putin's bodyguards are often seen carrying briefcases, which are actually bullet-proof shields. That's not the only form of protection they've been known to carry, as his guards have been seen carrying umbrellas made of Kevlar.

Putin's guards in action

Per The New York Post, when Putin makes public appearances he is surrounded by multiple bands of bodyguards. There are typically four rings of guards around Putin at any time. Sometimes this includes the guards closest to Putin who are typically dressed in dark suits, wearing sunglasses and earpieces. These guards are often seen in a ready position, according to Russia Beyond, in which one of their hands is raised, prepared to jump into action should the need arise.

While those closest to Putin are quite obviously bodyguards, some members of his security detail are not quite as conspicuous. Guards stationed farther away from the Russian president are sometimes dressed much differently, often trying to blend in with crowds. There are usually snipers in the area as well. Putin usually travels in a heavily armed motorcade consisting of armored vehicles, machine guns, and anti-aircraft missiles.

Putin has allegedly used other interesting security measures

Given Putin's awareness and caution concerning assassination attempts, it makes sense that he would want to make sure any sort of food or beverage he ingests is poison-free. In 2012, Gilles Bragard, who founded ​​Club des Chefs des Chefs, an organization that cooks for heads of state, told The Telegraph that at least back then, food tasters were still in use to a degree. "Tasters still exist but only in the Kremlin, where a doctor checks every dish with the chef."

Conor McGregor claimed that during his 2018 meeting with Putin, a gift he gave the Russian president drew the security team's attention in this respect. According to Sportskeeda, McGregor gave Putin a bottle of his signature whiskey as a gift, but it was quickly confiscated by bodyguards who wanted to test the bottle for poison.

It has also been alleged that Putin has employed the use of body doubles over the years. According to the New York Post, Putin admitted in a 2020 interview that he had been offered body doubles for trips to Chechnya in the early 2000s, but he had declined the offer.