Dr. Jade McGlynn speaks at Aperio: War in Ukraine and Russian elites

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On 25 October, Aperio Intelligence held a talk with Dr. Jade McGlynn, a Research Fellow at the Department of War Studies, King’s College London, on the topic of the impact of the war in Ukraine on Russian elites.

Dr. McGlynn began her talk by noting that Putin loyalists have received rewards from the state, including Western assets in Russia seized by Russian authorities since February 2022, in order to buy their acquiescence and obedience. Dr. McGlynn notably referenced the seizure of the assets of French food conglomerate Danone by the Kremlin in June 2023, with Danone’s Russian factory reportedly being handed to Yakub Zakriev, a relative of Chechen leader and Putin loyalist Ramzan Kadyrov.

The discussion regarding Russian elites moved on to a mention of a new class of bureaucrats or “chinovniki” emerging in Russia. As these individuals are currently relatively unknown, it is Dr. McGlynn’s opinion that they may prove dangerous as they ascend through the ranks of Russia’s elites.

Dr. McGlynn mentioned other notable examples to highlight the inability of Western sanctions to keep up with the influence of Russian elites. She noted the recent purchase of a mansion in the Surrey Wentworth estate by Elsina Khayrova, the daughter of the former finance minister in the Republic of Tatarstan, Rinat Khayrov, and questioned how such a transaction was allowed to take place in the United Kingdom considering the current geopolitical situation.

Moving on to the topic of the late Wagner leader Yevgeniy Prigozhin, Dr. McGlynn noted that, despite his status as a controversial figure within Russia, his anti-elite arguments broadly resonated with the Russian public, and she warned that the resonance of his arguments will continue beyond his death. However, his violent death has sent a clear signal to Russian elites to keep toeing the Kremlin’s line or risk a similar fate. This is the main reason why there has been very little public dissent on the part of the elites in relation to the war in Ukraine, or criticism of Putin.

Regarding the distribution of Prigozhin’s assets, Dr. McGlynn noted that Prigozhin’s media empire has been handed to Putin’s mistress, Alina Kabaeva (the chair of the Russian entity National Media Group). However, the future of Wagner Group remains less certain, with alternate possibilities for its takeover by Rosgvardia, the Russian National Guard, or the Russian Ministry of Defence. It is also presently unclear what Wagner Group will do in Africa or other parts of the world considering the leadership vacuum left by Prigozhin’s death.

The discussion then turned to the Russian-occupied territories of Ukraine, and McGlynn noted that many ordinary Russian nationals have been offered lucrative contracts to work in the occupied territories. She also commented on how state-broadcasted Russian propaganda in these areas pushes an anti-Ukraine narrative tailored to specific parts of the occupied territories, which remains distinct from broadcasting in Russia itself. However, overall, Russian authorities have created an alternative reality, describing Ukrainians as Nazis occupying their own territory – now defined by the Kremlin as Russian territory.

Finally, Dr. McGlynn turned to the topic of upper-middle class Russians, who left the country after the initial full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022 and are now beginning to return to Russia. Their ability to live largely unaffected by the war, and the promise of readily available jobs were highlighted as the prime reasons for this return. Dr McGlynn noted that this stratum of the Russian population is largely more liberal, but that, ironically, it is more protected from the effects of the war than Putin’s main supporter base.

Following Dr. McGlynn’s talk, a round of questions from attendees followed. These included questions on the topics of infighting among Russian elites; the potential for a new technocratic class of elites to emerge; and Russia’s influence abroad since the full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

For further questions about Russia, CEE, and Central Asia, please contact veronika.konecna@aperio-intelligence.com