Probably more than all NATO planes, rockets and soldiers, the Kremlin is in turmoil because of the betrayal. Betrayal in its heart, in which the power of the 20-year-old structure of the “new Russia” was built under Vladimir Putin, the one that today thinks it is mature enough to conflict with the Western world. The heart of that structure is built on huge amounts of money and loyalty, not on romantic oaths of allegiance to the homeland, and that is why the fear of betrayal today surpasses all others.
This fear has been creeping into the Russian establishment only recently. It has not been there for the past seven or eight years, as long as Western sanctions on the Russian economy last due to its annexation of Crimea and military pressure on Ukraine. That horror was spread to the entire country, to its economy and businesses, and the rich and influential became immune to it, even though it took billions. Now it gets a face, a name and a surname and is knocking on the door of the richest and most loyal. They are candidates to be the first to commit treason.
It is possible that this week their names, the names of their closest relatives and their companies will be under sanctions from Great Britain and America, because with their wealth and loyalty they decisively help the Kremlin in its aggressive, conquest plans towards Ukraine. Britain, which was the first to start in this direction, threatened to confiscate their property, because, as Foreign Minister Liz Truss said, “Putin’s oligarchs will have nowhere to hide”.
The structure of Russian power and the entire culture of modern political life are saturated with “cyanide of betrayal”. Betrayal is the fastest social elevator of the Russian elite – the Russian “Novaya Gazeta” wrote two years ago. At that time, the crisis around Ukraine had not yet escalated, but this picturesque description gained its full credibility today.
Had it not been for the fear of betrayal, Putin’s powerful, skilled and, of course, wealthy spokesman Dmitry Peskov would never have responded to the London threats the way he responded now – Such sanctions would destroy Britain’s investment attractiveness, they would destroy its attractiveness as such!? This should mean that the head of British diplomacy really cares about the attractiveness of her country, especially for investors, and Putin’s press secretary is also worried about all that.
If there is no war in and around Ukraine, and the whole reasonable world hopes so, great credit will go to the “invisible hand” of the Magnitsky Act, the law under which the most influential Western countries punish individuals, not states, for their threat to peace and enormous corruption they practice through brutal human rights violations. The United States, Britain, and the European Union are reaching for this mechanism at the height of the Russian-Ukrainian crisis, because they know how devastating it is for the structure based on huge amounts of corrupt money and loyalty. It is the initiator of the betrayal, which was discussed here. The betrayal, which in the case of Russia will mean turning their backs on war plans to save billions in Western banks, acres of the most luxurious houses and apartments in Manhattan and London, business through offshore companies, student status of offspring at the most expensive Western universities.
If this mechanism will have the power to stop the world’s biggest crisis since Cuba in 1962, what can the small Balkan “clients” of Magnitsky Act hope for? There are already some, and there will be more. Milorad Dodik is a veteran and even a pioneer in that society, he has been under personal US sanctions for full five years. He made fun of them from the first days, pretending to be a victim of the outgoing Obama administration and his chief of diplomacy Hillary Clinton, expecting that Donald Trump will abolish them as soon as he comes to power. It didn’t happen. Trump left, and the Biden administration tightened them at the beginning of this year, and along with Dodik, sanctioned several of his partners in corruption and one TV station. This January, he continued to joke about tightening sanctions, singing with his friends in the cafe “Meter of my village – a whole of America”, but is he really sure that there is no betrayal virus in that company, the same one they fear in Moscow? Will that bar loyalty last until the October elections, which are to be or not to be for Dodik? Maybe those who are now prompting him in defiance of America do not want October to be “to be or not to be” for them? Dodik will be the last to know.
He will not learn anything from the experience of former Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov, and it has been only seven months since the United States froze the property and business of three tycoons close to him and their sixty companies. And in that way they made Borisov a “former” prime minister. A group of Serbian “businessmen” from the north of Kosovo, led by Zvonko Veselinović and Milan Radoičić, who found themselves under the impact of the American Magnitsky Act in December last year, did not learn anything from both. It is possible that they, like Dodik, encourage themselves and their surroundings that it is nothing to be afraid of, because they have no accounts or property in America, but they know very well that this is only an official formulation, and that the reality is that their business, money and property are blocked all over the world, not just in America. No one serious will do business with such people anymore; they will run away from them in a wide circle.
Personal sanctions, using the name and surname, without any impact on the country they come from, are already a Balkan reality, and these last few cases seem to be the beginning of a practice that is yet to be implemented. It is unclear why they do not trust the American diplomatic envoy Gabriel Escobar, who has been talking about it persistently since the first day he accepted a new job. It will not be the only mechanism of American influence on solving the Balkan problems, but it will be one of them, and it will be an important one. Escobar is right when he says that people emigrate from the Balkans not because they cannot live next to other nations, but because in their communities they feel deprived of some life and professional opportunities, precisely because of corruption.
America’s sanctions against, for example, Dodik, are not sanctions against Republika Srpska, as he often says, but only against him personally and against the team with which he is connected in business and corruption. And he is probably right that he will not be touched because he has no accounts and jobs in the United States, but they prevent any cross-border money transfers, lead to the closure of offshore companies and shut down their business in which there is public money. That is why they are efficient and that is why they bring unrest to everyone to whom they refer, because they isolate them from the most loyal, and therefore the richest. Betrayal hovers over these people, it will happen, and fear will turn into a terrible reality, only for those with a name and surname on the list, not for anyone else.