Russian elite more accurately ‘tycoon’ than oligarch: expert

  • The media has widely referred to the sanctioned Russian billionaires as “oligarchs”.
  • But given their lack of political clout, one expert says it’s best to call them “tycoons”.
  • For this reason, some experts don’t believe the sanctions will change Putin’s view of the invasion.

Mainstream media have widely referred to billionaires sanctioned during the Russian-Ukrainian war as “oligarchs,” but “tycoon” might be more accurate given their lack of political clout, an expert told Insider.

At least 38 members of Putin’s inner circle have been hit with sanctions by the US, UK and EU, resulting in the seizure of their prized assets.

William Courtney, deputy principal researcher at the RAND Corporation and former U.S. ambassador, told Insider that billionaires are — at this point in history — “tycoons” of various industries, like coal, oil and energy.

“There are a number of these tycoons who are active today – some of whom have had their yachts seized in Europe in recent days, but they don’t have political clout like the oligarchs did in the years 1990,” Courtney said in a phone call. call with Insider in March.

Courtney noted that Russian tycoons haven’t had “much political clout” since Putin became Russia’s leader in 2000.

Under former Russian President Boris Yeltsin, the oligarchs played their part in politics, but Putin changed the game, forcing billionaires to serve and remain submissive to the Kremlin, Insider reported. Oligarchs who did not follow its rules ended up in prison, sent into exile, possibly poisoned or dead.

“The basic deal was that they could keep their wealth in return for submission,” Simon Miles, an assistant professor of Slavic and Eurasian studies at Duke University, previously told Insider.

For this reason, some experts don’t think they will change Putin’s mind about the invasion.

Tom Keatinge, director of financial crimes and security studies at the Royal United Services Institute, told CNN the sanctions were “symbolic” and likened them to a “public relations exercise”.

Similarly, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, an exiled Russian oligarch, claimed that the oligarchs are “just Putin’s lackeys” and “cannot influence him”.

But Courtney argued that the sanctions will likely still hit the Russian economy hard. He compared it to 2014, when the West imposed lighter sanctions on Russia following the country’s occupation of Ukraine’s Crimea region.

“The new penalties will likely have more than 10 times that impact,” Courtney said. “It’s really going to be devastating to the economy.”

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