A food delivery courier walks past an exchange office in Moscow.
©AFP / Yuri KADOBNOV
While the economic sanctions have not yet had a significant effect on the daily life of Russians, they have plunged elites and business leaders into silence. Critics of power are forbidden, but many are looking for a way to take shelter…
“Never complain, never explain”. This is the golden rule to which Russian elites submit today, whether they are in Moscow, St Petersburg, or even those who live outside the country. “Never complain, never explain (or justify)“. More exactly, the historical phrase belongs to Queen Victoria who, in 1851, gave this advice to her son, the future Edward VII. He was 10 years old. “Never complain and never explain yourself.” Historians sharp claims that this was the motto of British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli and what is certain is that Winston Churchill and Queen Elisabeth used and abused it.
Well today, the vast majority of Russia’s political and economic elites have made it their absolute rule of conduct. They are silent but do not think less.
What can be called the Russian elite consists of some 4 to 5 million Russians. This elite does not constitute a homogeneous socio-economic group. She lives mainly in Moscow or St Petersburg, some major regional capitals but also abroad. Their common point is that they all speak English, for the most part they have a good level of education and training, many have gone through foreign universities and they have traveled a lot. They listen to the BBC or watch Western television channels. They kept a lot of relations with the West. In the opinion of all observers and those who know them, they seem very aware of what is happening in Ukraine, do not understand the objectives of this war. And begin to criticize the strategy behind the scenes because they do not see how Russia will be able to recover from this adventure and above all, how it will be able to return to the game of the great international nations… But in no case do they see the premises of a change of power. So in the end, they organize themselves and try to protect not their status (because they know it will necessarily change) but they try to protect themselves and their families, or for the most ambitious or the richest, to expatriate.
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The Russian elites do not speak but nothing of what is happening in their country seems understandable to them. The narrative of this war written by Vladimir Putin is undoubtedly audible to the Russian people because they have no other source of information, but the leaders themselves cannot understand. Neither the military operation, nor the denazification, nor the weakness of military technology and means, nor the errors of strategy, nor the weight of the private militias. They consider that the damage caused will be difficult to repair
So the assessment varies from case to case. The political class close or very close to Putin must believe in it. But the economic and financial elites must be traversed by a deep malaise but they say nothing about and against Putin. We do not touch the Tsar. No reviews or comments. No explain, no complain.
What is interesting is that this dumbfounded elite is divided into four groups, which differentiates them: financial means, their proximity to central power, their current interests and their prospects.
We must put aside the political sphere, it is paralyzed or stuck. The liberals have almost disappeared or have fallen into fallow, some have found a post in the civil or the private sector. The former Minister of Finance, for example, in unofficial disagreement with Putin, has reinstated himself as a leader at the Russian Google.The senior executives of the public service depend directly on power so they are silent.
In the sphere of non-political civil life, the group of very rich oligarchs stuck to their jobs in Russia represented, before the war, the aristocracy of the Putinian system.. They have all more or less put money abroad, but this money is blocked and they and their families have therefore remained in the corridors of power. They work in energy, industry, commerce or banking.
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The group of oligarchs expatriated abroad. So there are all those who were already living abroad because they have a job or business there. (Gazprom, for example, still has between 400 and 500 engineering managers in Europe, but also investment funds). Despite the sanctions, many still manage to travel between Moscow and the various European capitals.
Some Russian leaders are already refugees abroadr because they already lived there a lot, in London, New York or Paris, and were not sanctioned by the West because they had cut ties with Moscow for a very long time.
Then, without having to look for them a lot, there is a population of Russian refugees in Dubai, Tel Aviv or Venezuela, but these are golden prisons for them.. They had assets and accounts acquired and opened before the war, so they succeeded in sheltering capital from Western sanctions but also from the Russian authorities who had to hunt them down. That’s why they are so in Dubai, Israel and even Thailand.
Outside of these groups, there is currently a steady stream of larger and smaller Russian expatriates. But it’s a bit complicated. They have to sell their apartment or what they have, the real estate market is quite active in Moscow and the surrounding area, prices tend to fall, that’s logical. Then, you have to find a way to pass the proceeds of the sale abroad, it’s possible. There are now channels that allow you to cross Russian obstacles and Western prohibitions. And finally, find a job or an activity. These staff are rather young (under 40) and very well trained.
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