Elvira Nabiullina, Russian banker in turmoil

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With hundreds of billions of dollars worth of Russian reserves frozen in response to the invasion of Ukraine, the Kremlin remains uncertain about the future of Elvira Nabiullina, head of Russia’s central bank. A woman desperately trying to save the country’s economy. This is our portrait of the week.

Elvira Nabiullina has changed since the beginning of the war. On February 28, the chairman of the Central Bank of Russia, dressed in black, comes to her press conference. No more brooches on the lapel of your jacket. She once admitted that choosing this gem allowed her to send a strong signal to the markets. The falcon meant the return of the Central Bank’s rate hike, the stork, resistant to frost and cold, support for the establishment of the financial sector during the pandemic. But this time, face pale and covered, Nabiullina says she doubled Russia’s key rate to 20% to stem the ruble’s fall.

poetry lover

Yet this experienced professional has learned to withstand shocks. Tatar Elvira Nabiullina was born 58 years ago in Ufa, the capital of Bashkiria, located in western Russia. Her father is a bus driver and her mother works in a factory. An early member of the Communist Party, the young economics graduate then worked for the Union of Science and Industry of the Soviet Union before joining the Ministry of Economy, where she supported the reforms initiated under the presidency of Boris Yeltsin (1991-1999). .

Great reader of poetry Joseph Brodsky, an opponent of the Soviet regime and winner of the 1987 Nobel Prize in Literature, she remembers the wind of freedom that breathed on President Mikhail Gorbachev, but regrets the collapse of the USSR. Years later, she confesses to Vladimir Pozner in his program, which was released on the first Russian TV channel. First channel : “Perestroika meant freedom. Undoubtedly, after all these years, we evaluate this period differently, we see mistakes, failures, which later had consequences. But for me it was a real hope. On the other hand, I believe that the collapse of the Soviet Union was a tragedy for a very large number of people in our vast country. »

Against the winds and storms

A woman full of contradictions? Rather, she represents the generation of Russian technocrats who were born and raised in the Soviet Union but entered public life in Russia. Economic Development Minister in the early 2000s, Nabiullina, although opinions were against her, in 2013 became the first female central banker in the G8, this group of seven world powers extended to Russia. Ivan Samson, social science researcher at the University of Versailles (UVSQ Versailles-Saclay), met her in the early 2000s: “She spoke French, she was interested in France. She was very interested in innovation. It was highly tied to economic functioning, which was not affected by power relations, corruption, vertical organizations. She tried to avoid it. But at the same time, she was not liberal in the Western sense of the word, because she was very interested in people, in society. She believed that the economy is not independent of society. »

His fight against inflation

The banker managed to stabilize the exchange rate of the ruble, which earned her the confidence of the Kremlin. Bold, she stands up to oligarchs who want to devalue the national currency to fund their businesses. She is fighting cryptocurrencies because of their opacity and is trying to support the Russian economy. She did it “create this image of a fortress Russia, rich in its huge international reserves, which gave the country’s central bank a lot of firepower in the event of a crisis,” explains Nicolas Veron, co-founder of the European think tank Bruegel in Brussels and a fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington.

However, his track record is ambiguous: “She did not fulfill her mission. Admittedly, the Russian economy has diversified a little over the last ten years, but its structural problems, its balance of power in the economy, this type of state capitalism cannot be solved by a few people appointed to important institutions. This is the effort of ten, twenty, thirty years.” Ivan Samson says

tragic figure

The invasion of Ukraine changed everything, agrees Nicolas Veron: “I think we can say that Elvira Nabiullina has become a kind of tragic figure. It was the embodiment of a competent, realistic, pragmatic Russia that managed to find a sustainable path in economic and financial terms. We now know that this vision was an illusion. A kind of Potemkin village, forgive me for a rather light cliché. This makes the personality of Madame Nabiullina completely tragic. Because everything she tried to do was destroyed. » The meeting of the Board of the Central Bank on the discount rate is scheduled for Friday, March 18. Elvira Nabiullina said that she was not going to hold a press conference, limiting herself to a statement. First.

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