The ongoing war in Ukraine has revealed a straining relationship between Russia’s elites and Vladimir Putin. Confusion over Putin’s unilateral invasion combined with economic and political trouble caused by sanctions has caused apprehension in elite ranks to build up on multiple fronts, with numerous elites in business and politics calling for an end to the war. Liberals and business oligarchs are feeling pressure as the Russian economy and foreign relations are set back decades by sanctions imposed by the west, and many have had their personal assets around the world frozen or seized. While economic controls and energy sales hold the ruble stable for now, long term economic growth has been crippled. On the other side, hardliners in the Russian government have criticized the president for not being aggressive enough in Ukraine and are frustrated by stalling progress. Operating between these groups with few advisors left who can reach his ear, Putin has done little to quell the worries of Russia’s elite, instead expecting elites to figure out solutions themselves. However, hopes that rising elite tension with the president could lead to elites forcing Putin to cease hostilities or even ousting the president from power are more or less impossible.
Sanctions against Russia’s wealthiest are intended to split the elites from Putin by causing severe financial pain. Making the costs of lost assets, trade and more outweigh the benefits of supporting Putin will presumably encourage elites to jump ship and thereby disrupt Putin’s ability to continue financing his war. Over 400 individuals and companies have been sanctioned with more than $30 billion in assets frozen, overseas properties seized, and elites denied access to global financial systems. Yet, despite headlines of oligarchs like industrialists Oleg Deripaska or Vagit Alekperov calling for an end to the war, Russia’s elite are not fracturing as hoped. While some have come forward, especially in the early days of the conflict, by now, most who have not left the country have fallen in line with the Kremlin’s narrative of a justified conflict.