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‘Oligarchs’ Are Not a Unitary Class

Allow me a moment to register shock and disdain for the front page of today’s Times of London, which broadly declares, “Cameron Under Pressure to Punish Putin Oligarchs,” lending to other misleading coverage ramping up unchecked Russophobia in Britain in response to the horror of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17.

We have seen before the dangers of labeling ‘oligarchs’ as a class unto itself, when in fact we are speaking about a diverse group of individuals of varying political orientations and values. In fact, it was Mr Putin himself who began the attack on oligarchs in much the same manner when he took power, seeing many of these individuals as an unwanted counterweight to his ability to rule Russia as an authoritarian state with no competing pillars of influence.

With articles like these, the Times does little service to itself or its readers by labeling many of Russia’s best and brightest as “Putin’s men.” Not every wealthy Russian is an appendage of Putin’s murderous machine, nor is every so-called ‘oligarch’ as intimately involved in state affairs as Igor Sechin, for example (who, by the way, receives the most polite reverence by British Petroleum).

Firstly, there are several generations of oligarchs who made their wealth during different periods in Russia’s development. There are those who have funded opposition parties and publications, and have worked hard to provide Russia with the smallest breath of oxygen in her civil society, for whatever that’s worth.

The indignation over what has happened in Ukraine is legitimate, and a serious coordinated response is necessary. Let’s be clear – this is an unspeakable horror that has changed the course of European history. But lumping together all Russians for punishment – even those who have done absolutely nothing wrong – will only help the hawks in the Kremlin consolidate their position as the “besieged fortress” requiring protection from the outside world.

At such an important moment, the Times could do better to distinguish between those responsible and related to the actual events.