An Excerpt from the scathing “Now we’re going to f*ck them all.” What’s happening in Russia’s elites after a month of war
“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 official. 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 won’t return the life 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.”
Under Martial Law
Though officially Russia is conducting not a war but a “special operation,” Russian state propaganda is working at full capacity. State channels are airing almost exclusively news programs based on defense ministry briefings and other official information, as well as propaganda talk shows. The population is being brainwashed into believing that Russia is fighting Nazis who themselves had prepared an attack on the Donbass. To cause even more fear, stories are being told about Ukrainian biolaboratories, where biological weapons against the Slavs were allegedly being created with the support of the United States.
Putin himself has made clear that he considers opponents of the war to be enemies of Russia who are acting in the interests of Western countries. “They [Western countries] will try to bet on a so-called fifth column, on traitors, on those who make money here, in our country, but live there,” Putin said on March 16. In his opinion, the collective West is trying to split Russian society. In order to convince everyone that Russians support his decisions, Putin holds meetings and rallies with citizens who are dependent on the state.
All this followed a wave of public discontent with the war. In the first days people took to the streets and signed open letters and petitions, while nationally renowned artists, directors, writers, and public figures spoke out against the war on social networks. This didn’t last long. Within a week, the authorities had blocked and shut down almost all independent media outlets, intimidated citizens with new laws on military censorship, and didn’t give street protests the slightest chance to grow into mass protests, packing people into police vans. In the first two weeks, according to OVD-Info, the police detained 15,000 people.
“In the early days, we were losing the information war,” says a high-ranking source within a regional government. “The people had negative feelings [about the war]. There was a sharp 50/50 split in society. But then all the [state media] got together and started releasing decent content. And then, when they [in the West] began to say that all Russians are bad, to boycott artists and athletes, everything changed. Now about 75 percent support the military operation. That is, there’s a social consolidation happening. Calls against the war are not at all popular, it’s more of a marginal story now.”
Gubernatorial elections are to be held in that region this year, which means that the authorities are constantly measuring public sentiment. According to this source, the position of “let’s end this” no longer exists — people want to end it, “but on our terms.”
The people I interviewed said in one voice that, for many ordinary citizens — at least until there is a big increase in unemployment — the sanctions and other economic and political consequences of the war have had the opposite effect from what Western countries may have intended. The mass withdrawal of Western brands (IKEA, Apple, Zara, McDonald’s, Carlsberg, etc.), the suspension of businesses, the flight ban, the devaluation of the ruble, the difficulty of buying dollars and euros — all of this has made many Russians think that the whole world is against them, and this makes them behave in a certain way.
“After the Great Patriotic War [World War 2], our country immediately began to dust itself off and rebuild. And after 30 years, the country was back to normal. These people [in the West] don’t understand who they’re messed with. This causes a sharp reaction even among those who thought differently and asked questions [of the authorities]. Now they won’t ask questions for a long time. They will hate the West and consolidate in order to live their lives, especially middle-aged people. This is a very subtle thing that the West does not understand at all,” said one of my high-ranking acquaintances excitedly, adding that he felt a couple of decades younger. (To be honest, it’s hard for me to know whether he really experiences such feelings or if this is a temporary defensive reaction.)
According to the pro-Kremlin All-Russian Center for Public Opinion, 74% of Russians support the “special military operation” in Ukraine, while the level of trust in Putin has increased from 67.2% to a multi-year high of 80.6% since the operation began.
I use the official wording “special military operation” for a reason. Trusting Kremlin sociologists was difficult even during peacetime, and during war it’s impossible. Everything in Russia today is completely subordinated to military propaganda. Independent sociologists believe that if Russians were asked about their support for “war,” there would be fewer supporters.
Even before the war, the director of the independent Levada Center said that respondents who were critical of Russia’s policy toward Ukraine avoided answering questions, in part because they feared persecution by the authorities. However, in its latest poll, conducted at the end of March, the Levada Center reported this: “In March, there was a significant increase in approval of the main state institutions: 83% approve of the President, 71% of the Prime Minister, 70% of the government, and 59% of the State Duma. The share of those who believe that things are going in the right direction in the country has increased sharply”.
Putin’s Dream is Coming True . . .