Since then, his dependence on the elites has fallen precipitously, while elites’ dependence on him, on the contrary, has risen sharply. Whereas previously it was believed that there are certain people whom Putin respects as experts on specific issues and with whom he is sometimes inclined to consult, the pandemic changed that situation.
Putin’s interactions have skewed toward officials who report to him and, due to their positions, must meet with him regularly, i.e. siloviki. And it seems to me that Putin’s behavior at the beginning of the full-scale war with Ukraine was a demonstration of this arrogance.
How have the Russian elites, who rallied around Putin at the beginning of the invasion, evolved over the two years of a major war?
I think there are two important things here. Firstly, it is impossible to live for two years as before, witnessing the leadership of your country commit bloody crimes. Everyone tries to find an explanation for this, and the elites, apparently sincerely, say that the West has always played a dirty game against Russia, that “we were forced to do it.” In my view, these statements should be taken seriously, since without such an understanding of the situation you might hang yourself.
Secondly, the time to make a decision was very short. Things were up in the air for two days after troops entered Ukraine before the decision had already been made [for them]. By announcing personal sanctions, the West fenced them in such that the elites’ dependence on Putin rose sharply. Thus, the West helped Putin to pressure the elites, and there was no going back for them.
Within the elites there was not only the fear of losing their lives and the lives of loved ones – which, of course, is effective – but also hopelessness. All options other than loyal service [to the regime] were cut off. And in this sense, they are acting rationally. They had no choice a year ago and they do not today.
Did Central Bank head Elvira Nabiullina really want to resign in the first days of the war?
I think so. But I would not exaggerate the reluctance of Nabiullina and her associates to work for criminals. Firstly, from the inside it is seen differently: sure, there is a war, but the well-being of millions of Russians depends on them, and they should not take actions that could shake or destroy that well-being. Secondly, it is wrong to think that “everything had been great, but then, out of the blue, a terrible war began.” This happened step by step.
A decision for Nabiullina to serve the regime could have been made 10 years ago, when there was a real choice. But since then it’s just been a downward spiral.
There are two main reasons. The first is culling.