Malik Nasir Mahmood Aslam describes an unusual conflict
A highly unusual new front has been opened up in the protracted Russian-Ukraine conflict war that has brought unprecedented peril to the most powerful oligarchy ruling Russia. The Russian oligarchs are notorious for their lavish lifestyles who are absolutely unmindful about spending extremely large sums of money to acquire luxurious objects they could lay their hands on. The most prominent of such luxuries they own are huge and extravagantly built yachts that they enjoy their holidays on whenever they wish to. These oligarchs have preferred the exotic sites in Western Europe and have also acquired some choicest of real estate particularly the beachfront properties in Saint-Tropez on the French Riviera, a favourite haunt of the international jet-set. They are mostly found frequenting the Alps in France that are famous for their majestic entertainment resorts and offer excellent opportunities for skiing. They are also seen in Sardinia that is known to be the most attractive spot in that part of the world.
Oligarchs have traditionally occupied the corridors of power in Russia from czarist times and this form of influence has long-endured. Currently a host of oligarchs hold highly influential positions within the ruling clique of Russia headed by Putin. After the fall of the Soviet Union these oligarchs rushed their way to great wealth and power acquiring and profiting from state assets in the tumultuous transition from the centrally planned economy of the Soviet Union to nascent capitalism under Russian President Boris Yeltsin, whom oligarchs helped reelect in 1996. After assuming the presidency in 2000, Putin began to target, jail and exile the first-generation oligarchs, whose fraternisation with the West and its democratic tendencies he may have viewed as a threat and started the process of filling their places with a network of loyal allies that gradually monopolised power introducing a new system in which state positions were used as vehicles for self-enrichment.
It is however widely acknowledged that most of the oligarchs surrounding the seat of power are extremely capable and have considerably assisted Putin in the power-grab he was always busy with since he entered the corridors of power. It is variously estimated that the Russian oligarchs hold about 30 per cent of the country’s income that is rated to be the highest in the western world. This wealth has translated to power and influence around the world as Russian oligarchs have ingratiated themselves with journalists, lobbyists and lawyers and have showered millions of dollars on western businesses, universities, political causes and charitable organisations. It is also well-known that these oligarchs are a protected class operating under the aegis of the Putin regime and have spent fortunes buying that protection and in the process became a part of the fabric of society. The hold of oligarchs is greatly resented by a majority of Russians that consider them as a threat to the foundation of society and wish that their influence is required to be tackled.
Most people share the view that oligarchs are Putin’s Achilles Heel and this point is not lost on the western world. Quite logically the west is aiming for squeezing them with a view to corner Putin in the longer run. The West cannot fight the Russians on the battlefield but they have strong intention of waging an economic war against the oligarchs that may take place in the fields of ports, airstrips, condo buildings, resort towns and the electronic trenches of international finance. The West has accordingly started applying personal sanctions on a number of Russian oligarchs. In this context it is pointed out that some $40 billion or $60 billion of wealth is on the line to be wiped out from the Russian oligarchs that might prove a substantial blow to Putin in the process.
Leading the pack is Alisher Usmanaov whose German-built luxury super-yacht Dilbar was docked in Hamburg, having arrived from Monaco in October for refurbishing when America announced that German authorities had seized the vessel and it was consequently reported that the ship was merely locked in place and that sanctions had triggered the firing of the entire crew. Dilbar, the titanic vessel was often docked at Port Vell at the Barcelona aquarium stretching nearly the length of two football fields. On board is a diesel electric power plant, a 48,000-gallon swimming pool, two helipads, 12 state rooms and accommodation for 96 crew members running a maritime operation that costs $60 million a year.
After years of cushy complacency in the service of Putin, some of Russia’s wealthiest and most well-connected are yoked with economic sanctions, hounded by bad press and spooked by public outrage over a chaotic invasion that is imperiling their lifestyle. In this respect US President Biden announced that America was joining its European allies to find and seize the yachts of Russian oligarchs along with their luxury apartments and private jets. Western news outlets have published a gallery of yachts and their extravagant amenities that are stupendous, to say the least. TW
Malik Nasir Mahmood Aslam is a seasoned social activist