Putin's deal with the elite was always pretty straightforward: Steal (but not too much for your rank) and nobody will mess with you as long as you give
unwavering loyalty to the national leader.
But now, one year after Putin won election to a third term in the Kremlin, he is rewriting the terms of the bargain. Putin's "New Deal" with the elite
could turn out to be one of the riskiest and trickiest initiatives of his rule.
And it has nothing to do with fighting corruption. It's all about reestablishing control and ensuring loyalty -- both of which the Kremlin leader
apparently believes are slipping.
This week, the State Duma is expected to pass the final version of legislation forbidding certain categories of officials from keeping their assets abroad.
According to the daily "
," the bill forbids officials from having a bank account abroad, keeping money in any foreign account, or holding bonds issued by any foreign entity. They
will also be required to declare any foreign real-estate holdings.
The Russian media calls this the "re-nationalization" of the elite, and part of the logic behind it is the fear that Russian officials keeping assets
abroad could turn out to be disloyal.
Such fears were redoubled by new legislation in the United States providing for visa bans and asset freezes against Russian officials who violate human
rights. Some European countries are considering similar legislation, and Putin is clearly worried that this would give Western governments unacceptable
According to the respected political analyst
, Putin believes officials "should be completely independent of foreign countries and fully accountable to the president."
Additionally, the opposition's successful rebranding of the elite as "swindlers and thieves" has stuck in the public consciousness -- meaning the Kremlin
will now need to more convincingly pretend to care about official graft. Some officials who thought they were untouchable will be vulnerable.
"This is a fundamentally new Putin with regard to the elite," political analyst Igor Bunin, director of the Center for Political Technologies, told the
"Previously, he kept the balance between the interest groups; now he has decided to reformat the elite. It had lived comfortably in symbiosis with the
regime, and suddenly it was told that it needed to be nationally oriented, and not have accounts abroad."
If Putin follows through with all this, it will change his relationship with the ruling elite pretty dramatically. Putin's elite support was largely based
on two services he provided: He was the ultimate arbiter in disputes between warring factions and he was the protector of their wealth and privilege.
Both could now come under question.
"This law is about political, and not legal, control,"
, a Duma deputy from the center-left A Just Russia party, told "Nezavisimaya gazeta."
"It will be applied selectively and subjectively."