Staunton, May 9 – The suicide of Dmitry Bosos, the Russian coal magnate who had ranked 80th on Forbes list of the wealthiest, reflects “a tectonic shift” among members of the Putin elite who had become used to super profits but now face a situation in which they may not be able to make a profit at all, Kyiv analysts say.
While their observations might be dismissed as nothing more than a Ukrainian desire to see difficulties in their country’s enemy, their argument is worth attending to because the pandemic and economic crisis have hade a profound impact on people who may now not be able to maintain the profitability of the sectors they control.
And while some of these oligarchs may choose suicide as a way out, the Ukrainian analysts suggest, others may seek measures short of that to change the situation they now find themselves in, including measures involving changes in the policy and even the composition of the top Russian leadership
Apostrophe commentator Vyacheslav Masny notes that in most countries, including Ukraine, billionaires don’t commit suicide and the fact that some of them now are represents “a tectonic shift in Russian political-economic arrangements” (apostrophe.ua/article/world/ex-ussr/2020-05-09/resursov-pochti-ne-ostalos-pochemu-v-rossii-strelyayutsya-oligarhi/32707).
The death of Bosos may be related to tensions between his company and Igor Sechin’s empire, tensions exacerbated by the collapse in oil and gas prices, Olesya Yakhno, a Ukrainian commentator says. But even if that is not the case, internal tensions within the Russian elite haven’t disappeared and may be growing.
“The main question is how will the serious struggle among ‘the boyars’ affect the throne of the uncrowned tsar of Russia, Vladimir Putin?” Masny suggests, arguing that there is no single answer to that.
“On the one hand,” he writes, even before the pandemic and economic crisis, Putin had obviously shown that he was in a crisis of leadership.” And those developments have only exacerbated the difficulties of his position.
Aleksey Golobutsky, another Ukrainian analyst, says that “the problem is that Putin’s plan for ‘the transfer of power’ via the constitution, referendum and all the rest has failed. The same thing can be said about his plans for Victory Day. “In the face of these failures, Putin has hidden himself in a bunker, let the regions take the lead, and experienced a decline in ratings.”
“One should not forget that those around the leader will support Putin only while he guarantees their staying in power and their money. Already now, they are beginning to seek other alternatives – and there are a multitude of them.”
One theory is that many expect Putin to come back and that those who now are seeking money from the state to compensate for their losses will be the first to “be sent to the guillotine,” the Ukrainian analyst says. That might be a way to restore the Kremlin’s power after its position was weakened by the pandemic and economic crisis
Yakhno adds that “the reduction in resources and the increase in challenges creates an obvious stimulus not only to elites but to the regions to take things into their own hands. Competition that was earlier limited by some rules now is growing and it is entirely possible that it will grow out of control.”
“Nevertheless,” she continues, “the Kremlin already long ago found one method of solving problems with the elites and population,” distributing money and stepping up propaganda. “And there is thus a reason to assume that the Russian regime still has enough resources in these sectors.”
Nikolay Kapitonenko, a third Kyiv analyst agrees. “Russia is hardly in a situation significantly more complicated that other countries. Of course, there are economic problems,” but they aren’t necessarily fatal. Even at current oil prices, Russia has reserves which will last for eight to ten years.
It is thus far too early to be speaking about “major threats to Russia – disintegration, revolution or a hot struggle for power. Perhaps there will be a redistribution of income within the elite but without significant instability. The nature of the political regime in Russia is such that elites depend on the Kremlin” and no one wants to be left out.
Masny sums up: “the global crisis, the current political problems and contradictions in Russia” may keep Moscow from expanding its aggression in Ukraine – or, as has happened before, Moscow may decide to “solve” its domestic political problems, including those that drove Bosos to take his own life, with a new foreign policy adventure.