“Why don’t Russians rise up and overthrow Putin, who is costing his country so much?”

That is a question you run across often if you read news from several sources. The primary reason, as I’ve understood it, is that Putin controls the media, and the Russian media only allow news that paints Putin in a positive light.

Reputable polls show that Putin really is popular with the Russian people, overall, and his control of news coverage is probably the reason.

But I’ve continued to wonder about the oligarchs, the Russian billionaires who gained their fabulous riches by feeding off once state-owned enterprises — fossil fuels, especially, but also mining — that fell into the hands of the oligarchs and Russia’s tainted forms of kickback-fueled private ownership.

The Ukraine war and sanctions against Russia are costing the oligarchs dearly. Why do they not rise up against Putin?

Russian journalist Oleg Kashin addresses these and other issues in an interesting piece in the New York Times.

What is called corruption in Russia would be more correctly called a system of incitement and blackmail. If you are loyal and if the president is pleased with you, you have the right to steal — but if you are disloyal, you’ll be thrown in prison for theft. It’s no surprise that in recent decades only a few individuals inside Mr. Putin’s system have spoken out publicly against it. Terror is always more persuasive than anything else.

The war had the potential to upend this calculus. The ruling class, which owes its acquisition of wealth to its position in power, has come up against a new reality: Their property in the West has been either seized or subjected to sanctions — no more yachts, no more villas, nowhere to run. For many officials and oligarchs close to the government, this means the collapse of all their life plans, and in principle, it can be presumed that there’s not a single social group in Russia more dissatisfied with the war than Mr. Putin’s kleptocrats.

But there’s a catch: They traded in their rights as political agents for those very yachts and villas. The fundamental intrigue in internal Russian politics is tied up with this fact. Mr. Putin’s military escapade has had a devastating impact on the lives of the establishment elite, on whom he has always relied. But the elites, hamstrung by their dependence on power for their wealth and security, find themselves in no position to say no to Mr. Putin.

That’s not to say their dissatisfaction doesn’t come to light. The finance minister, Anton Siluanov, spoke publicly about the difficulties of carrying out his duties under the new conditions. Aleksei Kudrin, the chairman of the body that audits the state finances and a Kremlin insider, explained at a meeting with Mr. Putin that the war had led Russia’s economy to a dead end. And even the head of the state military-industrial monopoly, Sergei Chemezov, wrote an article about the impossibility of realizing Mr. Putin’s plans. But backed by no political weight, such views hold no interest — or danger — for Mr. Putin.

It’s true that wars often bring out a new elite among officers and generals, who could conceivably threaten the president’s rule. Yet this is not happening in Russia, possibly because Mr. Putin is trying to prevent his generals from gaining too much fame. The names of those in command of Russian troops in Ukraine were kept secret until the end of June, and propaganda about the “heroes” of the war prefers to feature stories about those who have lost their lives and are no longer able to manifest political ambitions. In any case, Mr. Putin has surrounded himself with favored security personnel whose loyalty to him is beyond question.

At the end of the piece, the Times notes that:

Oleg Kashin (@KSHN) is a journalist and the author of “Fardwor, Russia! A Fantastical Tale of Life Under Putin.” This essay was translated by Carol Apollonio from the Russian.

You can read the rest of Kashin’s piece at this link.

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