Assets change hands in Russia. All major decisions are made by Premier Vladimir Putin.

A covert but full-scale redistribution of assets was launched. Some oligarchs of Boris Yeltsin’s era stand to lose their status overnight, making room for new people. Who will rise and who will plunge into oblivion depends almost entirely on Vladimir Putin. Putin has proved himself the most powerful politician in the country, even more powerful in some instances perhaps than he was in the days of presidency.

Striving to do away with Mikhail Khodorkovsky five years ago, the powers-that-be in Russia had to go to unprecedented lengths and brace themselves for a grandiose international scandal. In order to finish off other oligarchs of Yeltsin’s era these days, there is practically nothing the powers-that-be have to do. Indeed, they may relax and enjoy the show since practically all Russian business tycoons fell victim of the so called “crisis scissors”. Crash of global oil and metal markets (principle articles of export from Russia) combined with disappearance of cheap foreign credits were all the house of cards needed to start falling. The domino principle kicked in: crisis in some sectors and businesses fomented crisis in others, and so on.

Financial injections from the national treasury administered via state-owned banks are Russian big-wheels’ only hope. There is an informal economic headquarters in the Cabinet these days which decides who will get the money and who will not. It consists of Senior Deputy Premier Igor Shuvalov, Ministers Aleksei Kudrin and Elvira Nabiullina, Sergei Ignatiev of the Central Bank, and Presidential Aide Arkady Dvorkovich. What information is available in the meantime indicates that these people make secondary decisions at best. Three well-informed sources said independently of one another that decisions on truly major issues are Vladimir Putin’s sole prerogative.

Needless to say, the state lacks the money to meet all demands. It follows that the prime minister has to choose. This state of affairs makes transfer of some tasty slices of the economic pie from one pair of hands to another nearly inevitable. Also conveniently, the premier himself is above reproach. The government is facing two tasks at this point. It has to save national economy and prevent Western banks who borrowed money to Russian oligarchs from becoming owners of strategic assets in Russia. It means that he can always say that with tasks of this magnitude to be addressed, the lot of oligarchs themselves becomes a secondary consideration.

There is one other nuance to be commented on. “President Dmitry Medvedev wields no clout with the process of distribution of subsidies and does not even try to interfere. It stands to reason to assume therefore that duties and functions within the tandem are clearly divided – at least on that score,” to quote another former Cabinet member. Whatever other representatives of the Russian elite agreed to comment on the issue seemed to accept this premise too.

The influence Dvorkovich wields is probably an exception that proves the rule. The economic decision-making center has moved from the Kremlin to the government. Expert Directorate of the presidential administration, a key economic division that it is, has been without the chief for months now. Some people offered the job (like Lev Yakobson of the Supreme School of Economics or Sergei Guriyev of the Russian Economic School) flatly refused, others (like Denis Morozov of Norilsk Nickel or Vasily Popik of the state machinery) cannot overcome resistance of bureaucracy.

The political establishment no longer wonders why the powers-that-be would suggest a longer term of office for president and rush implementation of the idea. Most people are convinced that the authorities initially planned early parliamentary and presidential elections to follow amendment of the Constitution. No need to say who will become a candidate for president from the ruling party, is there? After all, there are no more legislative obstacles for Putin to overcome.

On the other hand, objective political reality may tear subjective political designs into pieces. It is rumored within the political establishment these days that the developing economic crisis may convince the powers-that-be that early elections are too risky an option. If it does indeed, promoters of “pure democracy” may rejoice. The population at large, however, will have no reasons to celebrate.

National monetary unit will be the first victim of the crisis. Fall of the ruble exchange rate means a drop in living standards. Attempts to maintain the ruble on the other hand will finish off national economy and waste gold and hard currency reserves.

Counting by International Labor Organization algorithms, there were about 4 million unemployed in Russia when the crisis reached it. A former Cabinet member who knows what he is talking about maintains that the army of the unemployed is expected to increase to 8-10 millions by the end of the first quarter of 2009.