Anatoly Chubais has resigned from the government and left Russia. This is the highest-ranking deflection in Moscow since the war in Ukraine began a month ago
Not all’s well in Moscow. Russian president Vladimir Putin’s special envoy Anatoly Chubais has resigned over the war in Ukraine, the highest-ranking official to break with the Kremlin since the invasion began a month ago.
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told the news agency RIA Novosti on Wednesday that Chubais had resigned, adding that he did so of his own accord.
Who is Chubais? And what does his resignation mean for Russia, where going against Putin is unheard of?
The 66-year-old Chubais was one of the key architects of the 1990s economic reforms under Russia’s Boris Yeltsin. The privatisations after the fall of the Soviet Union is what helped created Russia’s many superrich oligarchs. Critics describe him as a Kremlin puppet who sold off assets to the wealthy.
Interestingly, Chubais was the one who gave Putin his first job in the Kremlin in the mid-1990s and was the president’s big supporter as he rose up the ranks. Under Putin, he held senior business and political jobs, lately serving as Kremlin’s special envoy to international organisations, reports the new agency Reuters. He was in-charge of “achieving goals for sustainable development”, prior to which he headed the state technology firm Rusnano.
Chubais has reportedly left Russia and has no plans to return. Some reports say he was spotted in Turkey’s Istanbul. He announced his resignation to colleagues on Tuesday.
Resignation, an anti-war protest?
Chubais’s resignation was motivated by his “opposition to President Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine”, reported Bloomberg. He had started making his displeasure clear through social media. It started with a post on murdered opposition figure on Facebook. There was no comment just a picture of Boris Nemtsov, on the anniversary of his killing, a move which is seen as being critical of the Kremlin.
In another Facebook post last week, the senior leader hinted at a darkened outlook, reports Bloomberg. On the death anniversary of Yegor Gaidar, he wrote that the fellow economic reformer “understood the strategic risks better than I did and I was wrong”.
In his 2006 book, Death of Empire, Gaidar warned of the temptations of imperial nostalgia for the Soviet Union he saw growing under Putin. “It’s not difficult to convince society that a state that collapsed so suddenly can be just as quickly rebuilt. That’s an illusion, a dangerous one,” he wrote, according to Bloomberg.
However, Russia’s opposition leaders were not wowed by Chubais’s resignation. Kira Yarmysh, spokesperson of the jailed Putin critic Alexei Navalny, rubbished claims that the resignation was an anti-war protest and said that the reformer quit “out of fear for his own skin and his own money”.
As Russia faces heavy losses in the war, the rare voices of dissent are becoming more than a murmur. Last week, former Kremlin aide and ex-deputy prime minister Arkady Dvorkovich stepped down as head of the state-backed Skolkovo technology fund. In an interview with the US magazine Mother Jones he said, “Wars are the worst things one might face in life… including this war. My thoughts are with Ukrainian civilians.”
Since the invasion, the Kremlin is doing everything in its power to silence critics of Putin in Russia, instructing the state media to call the war “a special military operation”. On March 4, Russia passed a law which criminalised independent war reporting and protests, with penalities that earn dissidents up to 15 years in prison.
A Russian court on Tuesday sentenced Navalny to nine additional years in a maximum-security prison on fraud and contempt of court charges and slapped a fine of 1.2 million roubles.
The Russian president has also lashed out at those harbouring anti-war sentiments. On 16 March, Putin went on a rant against dissenters calling them “scum and traitors” and urging Russians to “spit them out like a fly that has accidentally flown into their mouths”. “I am convinced that this natural and necessary self-cleansing of society will only strengthen our country, our solidarity, cohesion and readiness to meet any challenge,” he said.
Is this the first sign of public discord?
Though Chubais was not an influential member of the current regime, his resignation is creating a buzz in Russia where he is a known name. It is the first sign of public discord in Moscow.
There’s also speculation of what’s happening within Putin’s inner circles. Other than the Kremlin spokesperson Peskov and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, few members close to the president have appeared in public in recent weeks, reports BBC.
Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhaylo Podolyak said on Wednesday that it was interesting that the two top security figures, Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of Staff Valery Gerasimov, were “nowhere to be seen”, along with the heads of Russia’s secret services, according to the report.
With inputs from agencies