March 11, 2022 | OPINION | By Zoraiz Zafar
In the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the world’s opinion of Russian President Vladimir Putin has grown increasingly hostile. The long-time ruler once seen as a cold, cunning, and crafty antagonist is today considered to be a deranged narcissist sitting atop the world’s largest nuclear stockpile.
Before analyzing the effects of the ongoing Russian invasion, it is pertinent to understand the Russian political structure. Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Russian Federation has overseen reforms to transition to a much more capitalist economic system.
The sale of state assets at discounted prices led to the creation of the Russian oligarchy: a group of ultra-wealthy businessmen who maintain a stranglehold over Russia’s expansive oil and gas industry. These oligarchs are believed to exert a great influence over Russian politics and it is strongly believed that Putin had to strike a bargain with the oligarchs early on in his presidency. Subsequently, Putin’s presidency saw a large uptick in the number, and wealth, of Russian oligarchs.
However, this “Great Bargain” is on shaky grounds following Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine. The Western bloc, led by the United States, has imposed devastating financial sanctions on the oligarchs, targeting their assets parked overseas.
Almost a week into the invasion, the United States announced the formation of Task Force KleptoCapture, specifically targeting Russian oligarchs. Putin, recognizing the increasing tension between him and the oligarchy, fled to his lair in the Urals along with leading Russian oligarchs as the invasion of Ukraine crawled along.
On the other end of the Russian political spectrum, there is the security establishment. Considered to be a surviving shadow of the Soviet syndicate, the Russian security establishment continues to pull strings and influence the direction of the country. Putin, a former KGB operative, has always had strong ties with the security establishment.
In fact, it is widely believed that it was the security establishment that coerced former Russian President Boris Yeltsin to appoint Putin, the then Federal Security Service director, as prime minister, clearing the pathway for Putin to take the presidency.
But Putin’s actions in Ukraine and the ensuing military and economic standoff with North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) countries are not helping Russia’s interests in any way. The Russian economy, already reeling from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the annexation of Crimea, has been dealt a beating in the past few weeks. With the Ruble and the Russian stock market crumbling, economic conditions are about to take a turn for the worst, with inflation expected to rip through the Russian economy and citizens’ budgets.
On the military front, Putin has not only overseen thousands of Russian casualties in the invasion but his thinly-veiled nuclear threats hurled towards Western countries have sent shockwaves across the world. Russian generals, of all people, are well-aware of the outcome of direct military confrontation with NATO, for that matter.
All of this adds up to one clear-cut proposition: the people who put and kept Vladimir Putin in power must make the decision to remove him from it. Though it is true that, through decades of fear and intimidation, Putin has mostly insulated himself from internal opposition, his poor handling and erratic behavior surrounding the Ukrainian invasion has left the door open for a revolution.
The time is ripe for a change in the Kremlin. Together, the Russian security establishment and the oligarchy must bite the bullet before Putin bleeds Russia dry.