Purchasing Loyalty

Brian Whitmore has a good post up over at The Power Vertical:

The political structure Putin built over the past decade was based on a vast system of patronage that, thanks to high oil and gas prices, allowed the Kremlin to purchase the loyalty of Russia’s sprawling bureaucracy and at least the tacit consent of a critical mass of the population.

Here’s how Moscow-based political analyst Dmitry Oreshkin put it when I spoke to him about the emerging political crisis:

The vertical is not as strong as it seemed. It is based on buying the loyalty of officials with the help of oil funds. The bureaucratic class gives its loyalty to the center and the center closes its eyes to their corruption…When oil and gas prices were high and when the economy was growing, it worked well. Bureaucrats were afraid to show disloyalty to their bosses because if they were fired they would be outsiders. But when gas and oil prices are low and the economy falters, it is not possible to buy everybody’s loyalty.

Petrodollars, in short, were the lubricant that kept the system functioning. And now that these are drying up, the arrangement is breaking down with unpredictable consequences.