khrushcheva117_VLADIMIR SINDEYEVAFPGettyImages_putinmoneyposter Vladimir Sindeyev/AFP via Getty Images

Putin Means Money

While Russian President Vladimir Putin wants to be able to tout Russian achievements in science and innovation, he also wants to enrich himself as much as possible. And, as the security forces' recent raid on the Lebedev Physics Institute in Moscow showed, if he has to choose, money comes first.

MOSCOW – In her 2014 book Putin’s Kleptocracy, the late Karen Dawisha argued that the key to understanding Vladimir Putin’s Russia is money. While Putin was selling stories to the public about restoring Russia’s global influence, she explained, he and a coterie of trusted cronies were amassing massive amounts of personal wealth. More than an authoritarian, nationalist, or revanchist, Putin, in her view, should be understood as a crook.

At the time, I disagreed: though money was undoubtedly important to understanding the Putin regime, the drive for global influence was not to be dismissed. But in the wake of the security forces’ raid on the Lebedev Physics Institute (FIAN) in Moscow last month, I have changed my mind.

For decades, FIAN has been at the frontier of Russian scientific and technological progress. It would thus seem that the institute is ideally suited to play a central role in advancing the strategic priorities that Putin himself identified in May 2018: science, technological innovation, and export-oriented production.

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