The Russian elite and their relationship with Vladimir Putin: are they dropping him?

Since the start of the so-called special military operation against Ukraine, the attitude of the Russian elite and the official apparatus has changed fundamentally several times. The initial shock and extreme pessimism gave way to warlike euphoria and hopeful optimism and now seems to have given way to a pessimistic-fatalistic mood that was ubiquitous.

Although general discouragement and dissatisfaction with Vladimir Putin personally seems to be steadily rising, the situation is still far from an open wave of indignation, and there is no clear idea of ​​a post-Putin era.

Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine

A source close to the Russian government sums up the current mood in the bureaucracy excellently in an interview with the well-known online media Meduza, which the Russian government has branded as a foreign agent: Regardless of their anger, everyone continues to work and gradually bring the country into a general state of war .

A look at these mood pictures gives the impression that this war is not actively supported by the Russian elites, but ultimately only passively accepted. But this impression is misleading.

In Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine, the political elites are by no means voiceless, innocent victims, but rather willing henchmen and a not insignificant part of the foreign and security policy elite actively benefit from current developments.

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To the author

Dr Alexander Dubowy is a policy and risk analyst and researcher in international relations and security policy, focusing on Eastern Europe, Russia and the CIS region. He is employed by the Berliner Zeitung this weekend.

Political hostages for one man decision?

In her latest piece, domestic and elite political analyst Kirill Rogov explains why the “we are all hostages to one man madness” argument is just a convenient excuse and a transparent attempt at money laundering.

In the beginning of his deliberations, Rogov asks the only superficial rhetorical question as to why the Russian elites, who, given their power status should be interested in maintaining stability and the status quo, have neglected to develop intra-systemic protection mechanisms in the past. two decades, to make government action and decision-making more predictable and controllable.

After answering this introductory question, the author makes informative remarks about the emergence and structure of post-Soviet elites in general and the Russian elites in particular. According to Kirill Rogov, the history of the post-Soviet elites and their relationship with the state has several phases.

From the system-developed oligarchy to the hegemonic power vertical

In the second half of the 1990s, against the background of complex transformation processes and general weakness and immaturity of state, party political and social structures, the “system of competitive oligarchy” took shape in Russia. After a relatively short phase of capital accumulation, the oligarchic groups have managed to exert a decisive influence on Russia’s media and political landscape.

The latter corresponds to the phenomenon of “state capture”, according to Rogov. This development leads to widespread corruption and undermines the possibility of sustainable constitutional reforms. At the same time, the presence of several oligarchic groups, some of which are in open competition with each other, ensures a relative pluralism of meaning in political and media life, but it can of course not be translated into institutional democratic pluralism.

In the early 2000s, the new president, Vladimir Putin, who counted on the support of the masses, began the establishment of a tightrope of power to strengthen the ability of state structures to act. As for the oligarchy, this policy is accompanied by a gradual political powerlessness (up to and including expropriation and political persecution in the event of resistance, as in the case of Mikhail Khodorkovsky) and their integration into the broader elite structures led by Vladimir Putin as the supreme judge. At its core, this power system demonstrates essential features of a personalist authoritarianism.

“Two Pocket Strategy”

The former oligarchic groups (such as the Alpha Group, Roman Abramovich, Oleg Deripaska), which are incorporated into Putin’s system of power and form a significant part of the economically liberal, pro-Western elites, are switching to the so-called “two-pocket strategy”. Russia is being transferred to the West for cover, Rogov said.

On the one hand, this pragmatic, cynical approach minimizes conflicts over domestic politics with new, power-conscious, anti-Western and isolationist elite groups (especially the heterogeneous group of so-called siloviki – people with a background in intelligence, police or military) and on the other facilitates institutional and constitutional reforms in Russia Protection and guarantee of property rights less urgent and ultimately obsolete.

Kirill Rogov refers to these elite groups close to Putin as the “New Oprichniki” – referring to the special military unit from the era of Ivan the Terrible, which reports directly to the Tsar, withdrawn from the control of the Boyar Duma and for their ruthless and bloodthirsty actions against himself was known by high-ranking elite representatives.

Self-radicalization of “New Oprichniki”

The selfish and futuristic “two-pocket strategy” of former oligarchs, while all groups of economically liberal, pro-Western elites without struggle relinquish sovereignty over the interpretation of domestic policy and institutional reforms, led to a crucial lack of intra-systemic control mechanisms as well as to a gradual marginalization and political powerlessness of the economically liberal elite groups.

The annexation of Crimea and the intense phase of confrontation with the West lead to a further weakening of pro-Western elites and an excessive strengthening, consolidation and self-radicalization of the anti-Western “New Oprichniki”.

Ultimately, the representatives of these groups become the politically impotent executive bodies of the Russian regime. The culmination of this development was the short-term decision to invade Ukraine by the “New Oprichniki” and the impossibility that the economically liberal elite circles had any significant influence on this decision.

Do the sanctions affect the wrong people?

The international sanctions are a devastating blow to the assets hidden in the West by the economically liberal elite groups who are de facto powerless in today’s Russia.

Due to another capital withdrawal structure, which is primarily based on income from energy trade, the anti-Western “New Oprichniki” responsible for the war in Ukraine is little or not limited in their assets. The only way to undermine the political influence of those responsible for the war is to weaken the Russian economy as a whole, Kirill Rogov concludes.

***

Regardless of their abbreviated, not to say one-dimensional, nature, Kirill Rogov’s thoughtful reflections paint a devastating picture of the potential for internal conflict and of the enormous self-destructive power of Putin’s late system of power.

The internal-literary conflicts and the limitations that lie within the system not only make a democratically legitimized and orderly transfer of power almost impossible, but rather constitute an indispensable guarantee for the coming deep systemic crisis with an uncertain outcome not only for Russia but also for all over Europe.

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