Monday, April 9, 2018

US Sanctions Changing Balance of Forces in Russian Elite in Unexpected Way, PolitSoviet Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 7 – US sanctions are having an impact on the Russian economy and may affect Moscow’s foreign policy, but there is one way, which has passed “almost unnoticed,” the PolitSoviet portal says, in which they are already having an impact on the balance of forces within the Russian elite and hence on how politics there will play out in the future.

            And that is shown, the Yekaterinburg news and commentary site continues, not by any declaration of either side but by the specific charges brought against Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg by the American side (

            “It turns out,” the portal says, “that the Americans in introducing sanctions considered a criminal case brought by the Russian siloviki not against Vekselberg himself but against his associates. Sentence in that case has not yet been passed – and there is no guarantee that it will be handed down by a court – but it has already played a role in Vekselberg’s fate.”

            It is indicative that “the US authorities trust the Russian investigation and consider the accusation of bribery an important circumstance for the introduction of sanctions.” Russians do not have the same trust in their own siloviki, and so the American faith in them stands out, PolitSoviet says.

Instead, it continues, Russians are “inclined to consider that the siloviki in such circumstances are acting in the interests of one or another elite group. A criminal case is an element in the transfer of property and the settlement of business conflicts among the various clans.

            “But now,” in the wake of the American action, these conflicts “are ceasing to be an internal affair of the oligarchic clans” and “any accusation even not against an oligarch but against his team can become the occasion for the introduction of international sanctions.”  That raises the stakes enormously for all concerned.

Without necessarily recognizing what they have done, the site says, “the Americans have sharply raised the status and power of the siloviki” because “the price of any criminal case has grown many times over” and “this cannot but change the domestic political balance of forces in [Russia].”

Now, PolitSoviet says, “there are two variants of the further development of events.” In the first, the siloviki may recognize that they have far more power than they did and demand ever more from businesses for positive treatment. If that happens, “the economic – and this means the political – role of the siloviki bloc will grow still further.

And in the second, it could happen that the political elite will restrict the actions of the siloviki in their dealings with business lest the opening of such cases lead to a new round of Western sanctions.  That wouldn’t be easy for the political elite to achieve or for the siloviki to accept, but it could happen if Putin got behind it.

“In other words,” PolitSoviet says, “either the siloviki will intensify their pressure on business or the political leadership of the country on the contrary will limit their power in order not to put the oligarchs under sanctions. The decision is the Kremlin’s,” yet another result albeit yet unresolved of the impact of sanctions.

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