Spotlight on a Potential Putin Successor

Former presidential bodyguard Alexei Dyumin has long been mentioned as a candidate to one day succeed his boss. Who is he? REECA’s Olga Kiyan gives a snapshot.

Editor's note: This article is adapted from a longer piece published by Harvard's Russia Matters Project titled "The World According to Dyumin — Putin’s Former Bodyguard and His Potential Successor" as part of a series on the Russian leader's prospective successors, including Nikolai Patrushev and Dmitry Medvedev.

There’s little doubt that Vladimir Putin will win Russia’s stage-managed presidential elections March 15-17. Should Putin eventually decide to pick a successor, however, chances are that Alexei Dyumin — a former member of his personal security detail — would be a top contender, thanks both to his long-time proximity to the Russian leader and his versatile professional experience. 

Born Aug. 28, 1972, Dyumin was a star athlete in his youth but decided to follow in his father's footsteps and join the military, according to Russian state-run news agency RIA Novosti. After high school, he enrolled in a military academy specializing in radioelectronics, graduating in 1994, and served as an engineer in a Russian Air Force unit in the Moscow region, which focused, according to an interview Dyumin gave, on counterintelligence

The Russian military was then still reeling from the collapse of the Soviet Union and Dyumin said he happily embraced a chance to serve in the Federal Guard Service­ — also known as the Federal Protective Service or FSO — an agency that protects senior officials and safeguards their communications. There he remained from 1996 to 2013, rising to the No. 2 post in the agency’s Presidential Security Service. In August 1999, Dyumin joined the unit providing security for newly appointed Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, whom President Boris Yeltsin would, within a week, publicly anoint as his successor. In that role, Dyumin told a Kremlin pool reporter, he became Putin’s infantryman” of sorts.

Dyumin seems to have developed a personal relationship with the Russian leader, one that has lasted to this day and has been rewarded with steady work in senior civilian and military roles. When Putin left the Kremlin in 2008 and spent four years as prime minister, Dyumin was again part of his security detail; in 2009, according to RIA, he managed to graduate cum laude from the presidential academy for civil servants. But Dyumin has denied media reports that he served as Putin’s “personal adjutant,” insisting that he was but one member of a strong team.

In 2013, Dyumin returned more directly to his military calling, first completing a training course at the General Staff’s academy and, in 2013-2016, serving in quick succession as deputy chief of the military intelligence agency known as the GRU, then as deputy commander of Russian Ground Forces, and as a deputy defense minister, RIA writes. Analyst Andrey Pertsev has opined that, in the last of these roles, Dyumin served as “the president’s eyes and ears.” According to unnamed sources cited by the Kommersant newspaper, in 2014, it was Dyumin who oversaw the evacuation of deposed Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych to Russia — reports that Dyumin has called “myths” and “legends” — and led the GRU’s special forces during the Kremlin’s annexation of Crimea (an allegation he’s declined to comment on). 

The claims about his role in Ukraine were followed by media speculation that his next major job — as governor of the arms-producing Tula region — was a prize of sorts, or a proving ground for further advancement. First appointed by Putin to run Tula in February 2016, Dyumin was then elected to the post that September with 84% of the vote. He has also been tapped by Putin to serve on the presidium of Russia’s State Council, a presidential advisory body.

Before his governorship, Dyumin had not been a public figure (and to this day he seems to have no social media presence). As the press started paying more attention, however, entertaining stories began to surface — from Dyumin’s own, about scaring off a bear outside a cabin where Putin was staying, to news that he plays hockey with the president (with one early profile titled “the goalie who lets Putin’s pucks get past”). Though Dyumin has occasionally hinted at a close connection with the president, he insists that theirs “is not a special relationship.” Western officials implicitly disagree: Dyumin was sanctioned by the U.S. in 2018 and the U.K. in 2023 for involvement in Russian malign activities worldwide.  

Following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022, Dyumin has explicitly expressed support for the war. He reportedly had a close relationship with Yevgeny Prigozhin, leader of the private military contractor known as the Wagner Group, and when Prigozhin launched an abortive mutiny in June 2023 rumors abounded that Dyumin took part in the negotiations that followed. After Prigozhin died in a plane crash two months later, Dyumin defended him as “a true patriot, a decisive and fearless man,” insisting that he and his men were not traitors. 

Putin’s continued closeness with his former bodyguard was on display last month as the two traveled around together during the president’s visit to Tula for events spotlighting the region’s contribution to the war effort and other accomplishments. 

The Russia Matters article linked below is supplemented with a compilation of Dyumin’s statements on key issues related to the U.S.-Russia agenda and Russia’s domestic developments. 

A.M. Candidate in Regional Studies—REECA; Student Research Assistant, Imperiia Project

Olga Kiyan is a student in the REECA master's program, an innovation fellow with the Imperiia Project, and a student associate with Harvard's Russia Matters Project.