His guards have imposed a strict protocol: No one can see the president without a week’s quarantine — not even Igor Sechin, once his personal secretary, now head of the state-owned oil company Rosneft. Mr. Sechin is said to quarantine for two or three weeks a month, all for the sake of occasional meetings with the president.
In “All the Kremlin’s Men” I described the phenomenon of the “collective Putin” — the way his entourage always tried to eagerly anticipate what the president would want. These cronies would tell Mr. Putin exactly what he wanted to hear. The “collective Putin” still exists: The whole world saw it on the eve of the invasion when he summoned top officials, one by one, and asked them their views on the coming war. All of them understood their task and submissively tried to describe the president’s thoughts in their own words.
This ritual session, which was broadcast by all Russian TV channels, was supposed to smear all of the country’s top officials with blood. But it also showed that Mr. Putin is completely fed up with his old guard: His contempt for them was clear. He seemed to relish their sniveling, as when he publicly humiliated Sergey Naryshkin, the head of the Foreign Intelligence Service, who started mumbling and tried to quickly correct himself, agreeing with whatever Mr. Putin was saying. These are nothing but yes men, the president seemed to say.