A former key figure in Russia is reminding those close to Russian President Vladimir Putin that their positions of power are unlikely to last forever. Vladimir Yakunin, who was once one of the most powerful men in the country, wants officials within Putin’s “inner circle” to know that their roles are merely on a temporary basis.
Unlike Russian regimes of the past, Putin has not formed a stable ruling class. And if Yakunin is right, this will continue in the future. Yakunin has stated that Putin’s circle will “continue to rotate”.
During his time in power, Yakunin was a good friend of the president, oversaw a major rail network covering 11 time zones and spent time as an intelligence officer at the United Nations in New York City during the Cold War.
According to Yakunin, the concepts of wealth and influence are both extremely fragile in Putin’s seemingly ironclad system. Now, this system is under heavy pressure from rapidly falling oil prices and international sanctions.
Yakunin says that Putin will do whatever it takes to maintain power, even if it means cutting ties to some of his closest allies. Yakunin has also cited the cases of Boris Berezovsky and Vladimir Gusinsky, two post-Soviet oligarchs who lost their power trying to influence Putin and the Russian state.
Last August, Yakunin dramatically left his position at Russian Railways, representing a major shakeup in the country’s leadership. Russia’s state railway company carries more than one billion passengers every year. Such rough resignations are said to be rather unusual for those close to Putin, but they are not unprecedented.
In March of 2014, the United States blacklisted Yakunin in its initial round of sanctions during the conflict in Ukraine. American officials stated that Yakunin was a “close confidant of Putin” who had major influence over the Russian government.
It is still unknown what exactly led to the fallout between Putin and Yakunin. Some believe that President Putin felt betrayed when Yakunin’s eldest son obtained citizenship in the United Kingdom. Others believe that simple mismanagement at Russian Railways may have led to Yakunin’s downfall.
Russia’s next election cycle will occur in 2018, and if Putin wins reelection, his rule is likely to extend to a quarter century. Russian officials will undoubtedly have to work hard to stay on Putin’s good side. Otherwise, they could very well end up like Yakunin.