What did the year of war do to the Russian elite

According to the established practice, all important resignations and appointments must be agreed with the Kremlin: at least with the head of the presidential administration, Anton Vaino, and even with the president himself. But a war-torn Putin had no time for personnel decisions. Even before the invasion began, reshuffling of the governor’s corps and state corporations was being prepared, but everything turned out to be frozen indefinitely.

Before that, Putin did not like to throw people out of the system, and after the outbreak of the war, he did not return to personnel matters for a long time. Of the high-ranking officials, only Anatoly Chubais managed to resign in the spring, and even then there is disagreement as to whether he agreed to resign first or left first. The summer movements of officials were mainly horizontal. The frame window did not open until late 2022, when it slowly began Change chapters main corporations. Each dismissal was the result of not only high agreements, but also agreements with secret services.

Bureaucracy and threats

Employment and layoffs in the Russian public sector are closely linked to the FSB. It gives opinions on all candidates for public office, including ministers and deputy prime ministers, and coordinates the management of state-owned companies. It is not uncommon for applicants to fail security checks, and the higher the rank, the more difficult it is to be accepted.

All these processes take place in the gray economy: no records are kept, information is passed on orally from official to official. However, the informality does not negate the importance of such procedures: there are many cases where the FSB picked up candidates for deputy prime ministers, ministers and other positions, even though they had already been approved by the presidential administration and the government.

In every state structure and state enterprise there is a whole crew seconded FSB officers. Among other things, they are responsible for maintaining access to sensitive and classified information. After 2014, the range of information considered sensitive expanded significantly – they joked that “the secret will soon hang on the lists of greeting cards of the minister.” Accordingly, the impact of such secondments has also increased.

Somewhere from 2015, these employees also began to monitor the moral character of officials: where they go, where they rest, with whom they communicate, how they treat the president, how they treat the opposition. Their certificates were placed on the management’s desk and copies were sent to Lubyanka. There have been cases where a seconded employee stopped an official in the corridor and jokingly said: “You speak provocatively”, referring to comments or likes on social networks. Until 2022, the presence of delegates and their activities were seen as a given by government officials and employees of state corporations.

“After the outbreak of hostilities, especially when it became clear that people were starting to withdraw, it was recommended to take a closer look at the disgruntled, to calm them down if possible and not to let them go without reason,” says an official in the personnel manager of one of the ministries. Sources speak of various ways of retaining employees: the letter of resignation is coordinated for several months, the management and the security officers on duty threaten with checks and bans from traveling abroad. Everyone who had already left demanded release and release. There were frequent requests not to pay attention to the dismissal, a priori impossible for top management and high officials, who are monitored by journalists and telegram channels.

Not only Russians were kept from working, but also foreigners and Russians with foreign passports who sat on the boards of large companies. Most of them began to withdraw from power soon after the war broke out, but corporate procedures were dragged out under various pretexts. Many directors managed to finally part with Russian companies only closer to autumn 2022.

Elite location

In pre-Soviet times, when access to the president was regulated but more or less possible, the Russian elite had a relatively comprehensive idea of ​​u200bu200bthe desires and intentions of the first person. Besides, it was always possible to “solve the problem” in an informal way, staying after the meeting.

With the introduction of first a two-week and then a week-long quarantine for meeting Putin face-to-face, such opportunities have dwindled to a minimum. Not every official or state businessman can afford to be completely isolated to meet with unclear results. Putin, on the other hand, preferred to work in the form of teleconferences, where informal practices do not fit.

The vacuum of the real Putin for the elites was filled by the “Putin collective”: a collection of ideas about the president’s desires and intentions, produced by his closest circle – the carriers of his charisma. Communicating with Putin, having formal access to the first person in position, and participating in the informal practices of the Russian civil service have become an important part of the identity of this group, and the set of images they create about him has acquired characteristics from the stable social form.

At the same time, there were an unusually large number of carriers of such secret knowledge: the presidential administration, the leadership of the special services, the Kovalchuks, to which the military was added, and the businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin. They did not give directions either when the war would end, or how to do business under the current conditions, or where Putin rules the country, but they proclaimed a simple thesis: “Who is not with us is against us”, pretending to be their own image of the world as Putin. The fear of Putin has been replaced by the fear of “Putinism”: everything that is anti-system is subject to destruction. Those who have something to lose have pragmatically chosen to hide and remain silent.

The authorities have no illusions that all silent people are necessarily “Putinian”. In this regard, a campaign is underway to locate the elites within Russia’s borders. Since 2014, officials with access to sensitive information have to coordinate their trips abroad and ask for permission to go. In 2022, such permissions were no longer granted, first to management and later only to employees with second-level security access.

Some government officials and employees of state corporations have been ordered to surrender foreign passports. Federal and regional officials and representatives of government agencies Prohibited leave Russia for the New Year holidays. Many foreign workers may “misuse the information they have about Russian industry and its condition against the backdrop of a special operation” — quoted the issuance of the “Arrangement” by an anonymous official. Before the war, only law enforcement officials and officials with first-level access to classified information were subject to such restrictions.

In a message to the Federal Assembly, Putin emphasized that the dependence of big business, “responsible for the functioning of strategic enterprises and determining the situation in the regions”, on “unfriendly” states threatens Russia and such a situation “cannot be tolerated”. This is a signal not only for businessmen, but also for special services: delegated employees can now examine all foreign contacts under the microscope.

Waiting for reprisals

Recently, there are more and more signals that in 2023 it will not work quietly. Putin he believes he is at war not with Ukraine but with the West, therefore he wants popular approval for the military operation. Number of events involving celebrities and officials supporting the war grows; the chorus of propagandists, deputies and officials who glorify war and curse the West rose to its apogee on the anniversary of the invasion.

The government and the presidential administration are fighting for the minds of young people – they have developed rapidly student’s book with the “correct” interpretation of the events of 2022, teaching history at universities received new regulations, spending on patriotic education grew up six times.

assurances Putin that they will not persecute those who do not agree with the war, they cannot dispel the fear of the elites about the likely wave of repression. Both businessmen and officials expect that in 2023 the identification of disloyal and demonstrative penalties will begin.

War and attitudes towards it are already being used as a pretext for property redistribution. Businessman close to Ramzan Kadyrov received a factory in Mariupol and shares in the chain of OBI hypermarkets and Starbucks coffee shops (both companies left the Russian market after the outbreak of war). The Crimean authorities “nationalized” 700 properties belonging to Ukrainian oligarchs.

The lack of a coherent mechanism for exiting the sanctions (judicial or administrative) or even a dialogue on this subject means that the Russian elites are entrenching themselves in the country. “For at least 20 years, we have learned at least a rough understanding of what to expect from the Leader (one of Putin’s nicknames) and his camarilla. Where will I go under sanctions? Neither regulators nor lawyers tell you how to remove them. It’s at least clearer here, ”says a federal official.

The Russian elite is very atomized. Unite with each other, create meanings, develop common values ​​and the image of the desired future – actually do what elite by elite – it’s not ready. On the other side, there is the risk of losing property, freedom for oneself and the environment, and possibly life. The latter no longer seems unusual after a series of mysterious deaths of top managers of Russian state-owned companies and their closest relatives both in Russia and abroad.


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