Experts estimate Putin's net worth at $200 billion, gotten through plundering state resources (CNN)
Sanctions against Putin’s Russia and other authoritarian regimes are like those imposed in the past against apartheid in South Africa: morally necessary but insufficient by themselves to cause political change. And moving up forces to areas threatened by Russia is also limited in its impact on the Kremlin leader’s behavior, Lilia Shevtsova says.
If the West is to contain Putin, she says, it must begin by recognizing that it needs a new paradigm, one that reflects the centrality for the Putin elite of money, generally illegally obtained, the desire of that elite to keep it in safe havens abroad, and Moscow’s willingness and ability to buy support among Western elites.
Only by recognizing this and taking action to expose and then limit such financial operations, the Moscow commentator says, can the West hope to “liquidate the cancerous tumor” within itself and establish new post-Cold War rules of the game that the Kremlin will have an interest in not violating.
Moreover, Shevtsova argues, Western governments and especially European ones should adopt a similar strategy against the authoritarian regimes in “Belarus, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and other [post-Soviet] countries lest they exploit the openings the West has provided them by using methods that no longer affect key elites directly.
In an interview with Charter 97’s Natalya Radina, Shevtsova says that Europe has undergone a stress test over the last year because of Putin’s annexation of Crimea and invasion of the Donbas. It has shown far more unity and gumption than many might have expected given all its internal divisions.
But the statements it has made and the sanctions it has employed against Putin’s Russia are “only a tactic and not a strategy,” and they are unlikely to be effective on their own unless combined with a clearly developed range of measures designed to “force a regime which is crossing a red line not to do something bad.”
The place to start for thinking about what such a strategy should look like, Shevtsova says, is to recognize that “the Soviet Union survived on account of its confrontation with the West. But the post-Soviet Russia of Yeltsin and now Putin survives by integration with the West, by the formation inside it of a source of enrichment, a ‘fifth column’ and spheres of influence.”
That is “a completely new model of survival,” she says, and consequently, “it is impossible to cope with the Putin Kremlin, to contain and limit his freedom of action by applying to Russia only economic and military sanctions, by sending five armored vehicles or tanks to Lithuania, by creating rapid deployment forces” or something similar.
What needs to happen, the Moscow analyst says, is for Europe and the West more generally to investigate Russian money abroad, where it is being invested, and to whom it is being paid, and then block the flows of money that Putin and his entourage have illegally obtained, as is the case with much of it.
That won’t easy for Europe to do, she says, because many in Europe are profiting from the existence of this Russian money; but Europe will not succeed in containing Putin if it does not focus on this issue and take decisions. “The situation is completely new, and one must not compare it with ‘the cold war.’” A new “system of taboos” must be developed.
Had Western analysts been paying attention, Shevtsova says, they would have noticed that the Kremlin well before Ukraine, indeed as early as 2007, had developed and ultimately formally approved a new concept of its foreign relations which reflected its new concerns with money and its placement abroad.
Before the Crimean Anschluss, Moscow saw as the matrix of its approach integration with Europe and the Western community on the basis of dialogue. Now, Shevtsova argues, it sees this wealth as a means of survival, of “containing the West inside and beyond the borders of Russia,” an approach in which Ukraine has become “a laboratory for testing this doctrine.”
More on the topic:
One bank official from Cyprus* explained to me why Medvedev, Kostin, etc. responded so nervously and inadequately to reports of a possible disconnection of Russia from SWIFT. The fact is that while the other Western sanctions affect the Russian economy as a whole, a disconnection from SWIFT would primarily affect them personally.