Writing in The Hill, University of Baltimore Merrick School of Business Prof. David Lingelbach and co-author Valentina Rodríguez Guerra assert that Vladimir Putin's continued hold on power in Russia is like that of an oligarch—it's rooted in opportunity, not legislative authority or simple popularity. It's the constant guessing at what Putin might do, the day-to-day uncertainty of his next move, that is the source of his strength.
"Oligarchs live on uncertainty," Lingelbach and Rodrigeuz Guerra write. "They thrive in emergent, unstructured environments where the rules of the game are unclear. Oligarchs like Putin gain and maintain wealth and power by keeping things up in the air. Keeping opponents off balance and guessing. They're opportunists."
The authors make the case for untangling this uncertainty by driving wedges between Putin and his power base. Ending the war in Ukraine, for example, would sharply diminish his popularity in Russia. But how that war winds down is a key question.
"Right now, the U.S. and its allies are playing Putin's game, trying to out-Putin him by introducing new sources of uncertainty in the Ukraine war such as advanced weapons systems and Western special forces operators. The Ukrainian approach from 2014 to 2022 was a better approach. Reduce uncertainty. Return to a normal life. Reestablish prewar patterns of behavior. Have the trains, the buses, even the airlines run on time again. Internationally, stop talking up the war. Talk it down. Ignore Putin. Don't respond to either his words or his actions. Just carry on.
"When these and other actions reduce uncertainty, then Putin will no longer be able to breathe—and then his power and wealth will fade away."
Learn more about Prof. Lingelbach.
More to learn: