What Russia's Elites Think After a Month of War
“Now we're going to f*ck them all,” said one high-ranking civil servant. How Western sanctions and Russian propaganda have rallied even opponents of the war around Putin.
Farida Rustamova is an exceptionally well-connected Russian journalist who — like many honest journalists — is no longer in Russia. But she has continued to report on the country in her own Substack, which frequently has English-language stories and which I encourage everyone to read.
Earlier this month I published my translation of her first post-war report, in which she talked to multiple senior Russian officials and found them in a state of shock and bewilderment at Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine.
This is the follow-up. Farida again talked to over a dozen elite Russians, including some with access to Putin, to see whether things have changed over the last month. They have.
For those of us who have hoped that Western sanctions would make a difference, it’s a difficult and disappointing read. But, I believe, a necessary one.
I’m publishing my translation of the first part of her latest report here. For the rest, check out her own post.
By Farida Rustamova
Disclaimer: This article could have come out earlier, but I wanted to gather as much information as possible to make sure I wasn't being manipulated. I didn't want to use yet another profane headline, but after talking to many people, I realized that this quote really says a lot. Again, I will say that I am not evaluating the words of my interlocutors from a moral point of view, but only recording what’s happening.
“Since they adopted sanctions against us, we’re going to f*ck them. Now they’ll have to buy rubles on the Moscow Exchange to buy gas from us. But that's just the beginning. Now we're going to f*ck them all.”
So tells me, with enthusiasm, a high-ranking Russian civil servant. He has long been a member of Putin's team, but has been considered a liberal thinker. A month ago he had a different attitude, saying with some chagrin that the most important thing was to stop the bloodshed in Ukraine, and then to figure out how to live in the new reality.
He wasn’t the only one. There are no “disloyal” people left in power in Russia. But civil servants, employees and heads of state companies, legislators, business elites close to the government — all were expressing, in private conversations, at least bewilderment at the invasion of Ukraine.
However, during the past month, there has been no mass exodus of officials or state managers. Big business is either staying silent or limiting itself to neutral phrases in favor of peace.
Over the past week, I’ve spoken with several people close to Putin, as well as with about a dozen civil servants of various levels and state company employees. I had two goals. First of all, to understand the mood among the Russian elites and people close to them after the imposition of unprecedented sanctions on Russia. Secondly, to find out whether anyone is trying to convince President Putin to stop the bloodshed — and why Roman Abramovich ended up playing the role of mediator/diplomat.
In short, it can be said that, over the past month, Putin’s dream of a consolidation among the Russian elite has come true. These people understand that their lives are now tied only to Russia, and that that’s where they’ll need to build them. The differences and the influence of various circles and clans have been erased by the fact that, for the most part, people have lost their past positions and resources. The possible conclusion of a peace treaty is unlikely to change the mood of the Russian elites. "We’ve passed the point of no return,” says a source close to the Kremlin. “Everyone understands that there will be peace, but that this peace will not lead to a return of the life that we had before.”
Russian society, my sources tell me, has also rallied in support of Putin's actions under the pressure of propaganda and under the consequences of sanctions. In a situation where, as it seems to them, the whole world is against Russia, its citizens "will hate the West and consolidate.”
This is just the introduction — there’s much more. For the rest, read Farida’s Substack post here.