(The Conversation) U.S. President Joe Biden and other world leaders are setting their sights on Russia’s oligarchs as they seek new ways to punish Vladimir Putin – and those who have enabled him and profited from his reign – for waging war in Ukraine.
Biden singled out wealthy oligarchs in his State of the Union address, promising to “seize your yachts, your luxury apartments, your private jets.” “We are coming for your ill-begotten gains,” he said. And in the U.K., two more rich Russians were added to the nine other oligarchs who have been personally sanctioned over the invasion.
Yet who are these oligarchs, and what is their relationship with Putin? And more importantly, will eroding their wealth do anything to end the war in Ukraine?
The oligarchs come to power
As a scholar of emerging markets, corporate strategy and the post-Soviet political economy, I have studied the oligarchs in depth.
Oligarchs, in the Russian context, are the ultrawealthy business elites with disproportionate political power. They emerged in two distinct waves.
The first group emerged out of the privatization of the 1990s, particularly the all-cash sales of the largest state-owned enterprises after 1995. This process was marred by significant corruption, culminating in the infamous “loans for shares” scheme, which transferred stakes in 12 large natural resource companies from the government to select tycoons in exchange for loans intended to shore up the federal budget. […]
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