One of the consequences of Russia’s recent political foment has been a phenomenon experts have labeled “nationalization of the elites.” The goal of the policy, which Vladimir Putin launched soon after his return to the presidency, was to reduce the odds that public servants and politicians would have multiple allegiances making them less loyal to the Kremlin. The most conspicuous element of the policy has been a recently adopted law banning government officials from owning financial assets abroad and establishing a requirement that they declare all real estate outside of Russia. This has been accompanied by a more infamous crackdown on the liberal part of civil society, perceived as a fifth column acting on behalf of the West.
The “nationalization of the elites” has multiple implications, mostly for the domestic balance of power within the Russian ruling class. This memo addresses the potential foreign policy consequences of “nationalization.” I argue that the phenomenon relies on an intensified hostility toward the West as the main external “other” in Russian identity politics. However, the very intensity of this antagonism points to the fact that Russia is dependent on the West and unable to sustain total isolation. Accordingly, the authorities’ harsh rhetoric is primarily a tool for achieving domestic political goals; it does not imply aggressive intentions in the international arena that would truly isolate Russia. That said, spontaneous aggression resulting from a new domestic crisis cannot be excluded.
PONARS Eurasia Policy Memo No. 251
by Viatcheslav Morozov