Putin’s Other Mistake

Russian President Vladimir Putin. (Photo | AP)

Back in 2016, WC read Karen Dawisha’s Putin’s Kleptocracy: Who Owns Russia? It’s not an easy read; Dawisha’s analysis is a fire hydrant of absolutely damning information on Putin and the crony kleptocracy he has established Russia. But it’s worth the effort; eight years after publication, few, if any, or Dawisha’s allegations have been refuted. Subsequent books on modern Russia have only been refinements on Dawisha’s work. If you are even mildly curious about how Russia became what it is today, Putin’s Kleptocracy is a fine starting point.

The Russian kleptocracy comes to mind because the power of any leader in a kleptocracy is based on assuring fellow kleptocrats that their wealth and power will not be taken from them. The thing any kleptocrat, any billionaire, really, fears most is the loss of his wealth and power.1 Putin has survived in the kleptocracy he created by protecting his cronies and their wealth. The protection has involved ruthless suppression of those at home who would expose the true economic-political nature of Putin’s Russian federation, and assassinations abroad of those who sufficiently threaten the status quo. The threat of violence is a part of preserving any kleptocracy.

Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine in furtherance of some nightmarish Greater Russia dream has blown up the power structure of that kleptocracy. The immediate reaction of Western countries to Putin’s Ukraine invasion was to seize much of the wealth that Putin and his cronies had carefully moved out of Russia to safer locations in the West. The seizures have a polite name – “economic sanctions” – but what they are is the ongoing seizure and lockdown of every known asset of Vladimir Putin and his cronies.

That represents a very serious failure by the chief kleptocrat to keep the implied promise of any boss kleptocrat: “Keep me in power and your wealth and power will be safe.” It has weakened and undermined Putin’s power in a non-obvious way. Like any crime boss, Putin still has the threat of violence and, in the case of a nation-state that is a kleptocracy, much of the police power of that state. But that may not be enough.

WC strongly suspects that the Russian billionaire kleptocrats, to a man, don’t give a fig about Putin’s dream of a Greater Russian State. They care about their wealth and security. What happens when the guy in charge throws their wealth and security away? What will they do? If there is a young Putin-esque type among them, you know what they will want to do: get rid of the guy who cost them billions and place someone else in charge. Or some officer in the Russian Army will get tired of seeing his troops slaughtered to satisfy the ego of the Russian commander in chief, and the crony kleptocrats will back the play.

Maybe WC’s inexperience in all things Russian is showing, but Putin needs to be very careful crossing streets. And touching doorknobs. It’s just a crime and a shame that tens of thousands of Ukrainians have to suffer and die in the interim.

1 Quick: name all of the Russian women oligarchs.

One thought on “Putin’s Other Mistake

  1. According the The Week, 6 oligarchs have died since the invasion. Something is going on.


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