A grain of salt

Russia’s independent TV channel Dozhd (Rain) has recently reported on a rumor that ex- Russian railway chief and amateur political philosopher Vladimir Yakunin was forced to leave his position because his son, who has lived in the UK for five years, sought citizenship there. Personally I doubt this, because it suggests that there is some concept of shame about this hypocrisy at the top levels of power in Russia, which I find really hard to believe.

You see, one thing about the Russian elite is that they have this profound arrogance which almost seems deliberate. Whether it’s presidential spokesman Peskov’s watch, valued at over $600,000, or Duma deputy Mizulina’s son living and owning a business in morally bankrupt Belgium, the Russian elite have hitherto done very little to hide their excess from the people. For one they know the people are suppressed, divided, and confused. Second, it’s a show of power. I really think these leaders have true contempt for their fellow Russians and imagine themselves as a class apart from them. Not fully European, as they wish to be, but definitely not Russian.

See earlier this year Yakunin himself was lecturing students on his own personal world conspiracy theory, preaching about the evils of consumerism and globalization. Later in the lecture someone asked him about his son living in London, and Yakunin’s response was that “it happens.” Most likely Yakunin never expected one of the “cattle” to ask such a question. In Russian society the social betters lecture you and you don’t question them. Of course there was no big uproar over his son living in London then. One could argue that his son hadn’t applied for UK citizenship at that point, but I don’t think that matters. People in Yakunin’s circle believe they have this right to preach the evils of the West to the cattle while they enjoy all the West’s evil fruits. This is a display of power, the right to say do as I say and not as I do.

Now there is another allegation that was floated, which says that Yakunin was told to cut back on siphoning money out of the railways and he did not obey this instruction. This I can somewhat believe. The idea of a top member of the Russian elite being physically incapable of not stealing is entirely believable. What is more, notice that he merely steps down and changes position, whereas in a country with rule of law, he’d be publicly indicted in what would be a major scandal for months. This is what happens in Russia. You may not get actually punished for stealing, but you can be removed from a privileged position.  So I can believe that someone at the top told him to cut back a little bit, no doubt because of the crashing economy, and he failed to heed the instruction.

Members of Russia’s elite may face sanctions from the top for stepping out of line, but blatant hypocrisy is no problem. Remember that these are the same people who have been attacking the West for years now, all the while taking the money they stole from their own people and shoveling it into Western banks, real estate, corporations, and universities.

UPDATE: Apparently Yakunin himself denies that his son’s UK citizenship was a factor in his leaving. For one thing, he claims his son already had the UK citizenship prior to the time he supposedly applied for it. The rest of his denial is simply hilarious and perfectly demonstrates the way Russia’s elite relates to the people they rule:

“There is no relation. Just look at how many Russian officials have a green card [permanent residency in the U.S.] or dual citizenship. Their wives and children reside abroad and no one cares about that a tiny bit.”

13 thoughts on “A grain of salt

      1. gbd_crwx

        Never mind, failed atttemp at joke, based on the ukrainian custom of giving salt and bread as moving in gift to a new house

    1. Jim Kovpak Post author

      That’s basically how the system works. Yakunin is too close to Putin to face any kind of public disgrace or slap on the wrist punishment, but he still has to be put in his place.

      1. gbd_crwx

        And the public are OK with this? Because they strive to reach such a position or that they maybe Think the top deserve a Little extra?

  1. sglover

    I assume that, as in the States, the overwhelming majority of “the public” is easily diverted from the massive theft that the very top of the social pyramid indulges in regularly. Centuries ago political and economic elites had to rely on brute force and deference to social position. But in the Age of Marketing, distraction gets the job done much more cheaply and easily.

  2. EP

    Of course the whole bit about son’s citizenship is ridiculous. That doesn’t explain, however, why Yakunin, who has long been a close and prominent member of Putin’s inner circle, has apparently been “severed” (or, at the very least, greatly demoted).

    I think an important clue is the status of the railroad system in the Soviet Union and Russia. It has always been highly privileged finacially and relatively independent in terms of its inner workings. Yakunin, who clearly sees himself as a first-rank statesman and political mind, used to fit right in. However, due to the economic catastrophe Russia is currently undergoing, it makes sense to wish to replace a man like Yakunin with someone less established and more pliable. After all, the railroad system is still crucial to holding the Russian economy together and the Kremlin may well feel compelled to micromanage it to the extent with and in ways in which Yakunin wouldn’t willingly co-operate.

    Also, the Kremlin is rapidly running out of money and resources to exploit and redistribute and a partial expropriation of some of the more troublesome members of the elite is to be expected. (Recent troubles of some governors could be part of a pattern.)

  3. Asehpe

    “The idea of a top member of the Russian elite being physically incapable of stealing is entirely believable.”

    Maybe you meant “physically incapable of NOT stealing”?

  4. TRex

    Former Latvian railways boss Ugis Magonis, ex-president of state-owned Latvijas Dzelzcels was recently taken into custody by KNAB after a wild car chase leaving Estonia where he was found to be in posession of a large amount of cash which he claimed was a legitimate transaction for his good friend Yakunin who he was also instrumental in having removed from the EU travel blacklist. Ugis further stated that cash transactions in this business are common.
    I suspect that you would need to tear a man (Yakunin) away physically from the boss position of such an enterprise. I wonder how he pissed Putin off? He was a well documented lickspittle.

  5. A.I.Schmelzer

    Eh, having Yakunins son formally seek UK citizenship would be a nogo for the following reasons:

    1: Given that Russian “elites” in Russia can get away with a lot of bullshit, and have a pretty insane amount of leeway in their corrupt antics, formally seeking UK citizenship means that even this degree of leeway apperantly isnt enough for Yakunin Jr. antics. That the authorities may not know precisly what Yakunin Jr. stole makes him only more suspicious.
    Kremlin reasoning: Whatever Yakunin Jr. stole, Yakunin Sr. is probably in on it.
    Which is why he would deny any connection.

    2: Assuming that Yakunin Sr. is loyal, and is against Yakunin Jr. taking British citizenship, this would show that Sr. is not capable of controlling his own family. While proven loyalty to Putin makes up for a certain degree of incompetence, there are limits, and it is not as if there arent new takers for Yakunins job. One should also note that thankfullness for getting that job deterioates over time, bringing in a fresh guy who only got this job due to Putin means more loyalty to Putin for Putin.

    3: Stragically, Putins or his actual friends own assets would only be safe in Russia, and nowhere else. Anyone who moves assets outside (offshore aristocracy) is potentially suspect, however, the aggregate power of those who are moving assets outside probably exceeds Putins, and those offshore aristocrats could credibly threaten the Kremlin.
    Removing Yakunin would make sense for the following reasons:
    -His son did something that is pretty rare, compared to just basic offshore aristocracy. About 90% of the “elites” would feel very pissed if Putin seriously moved against offshore aristocrats in general, the percentage who would be pissed if Putin just moved against offshore aristocrats trying to get foreign citizenship is much lower.
    -Second, Yakunin Jr. tries to get British citizenship after having already become a “big one”. This is different from having non Russian citizenship and working your way up.
    -Yakunin was seen as loyal to Putin, that he establishes a “thou shall not seek foreign citizenship” commandment will be more legitimate if he sacrifices one of “his own” for it. If it would be obviously politic/business (like, going after a neutral Oligarch and giving his stuff to a pro Putin oligarch) this commandment would have scant “legitimacy” in Oligarch circles.
    -As far as the offshore aristocrats go, getting foreign citizenship is actually sometimes an issue (f.e. most intel agencies would make certain demands and inquests to a new “citizen” of that background), now imagine your reaction if you are an oligarch who tried to get foreign citizenship, failed, and then see a rival being brought low because his son succeeded in doing it. Given basic Oligarch mindsets, the reaction will be “Haha”.

    Tldr: Putin gets rid of incompetent lickspittle, replaces him with someone who is probably more competent and more loyal (at least short term due to thankfullness for the new position), establishes a somewhat usefull “commandment” reducing the privileges of the offshore aristocracy and will probably manage to do so without pissing off the offshore aristocracy in general.

    The other thing is that Yakunin will still enjoy a genorous retirement. This is important because if he doesnt, people like him will fight rather then be removed, and you would end up with a Breznev like ossification because noone will ever let go.


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