As the story goes, Vladimir Putin spent time as a young child growing up in the tenements of Leningrad, now St. Petersburg, chasing rats with a stick.
One day he cornered one of the creatures. With nowhere to turn, the rat responded by attacking young Vladimir, a frightening moment that would be indelibly etched in his memory. In his later recounting of the incident, he said it taught him that when one is alone and isolated in such a way, the best thing to do is charge at your foe.
Mr. Putin may soon be arriving at such a moment again.
It’s hard to imagine his plans to appropriate a democratically-run country of 40 million people going any worse than his invasion of Ukraine. The Ukrainians are putting up the fight of their lives, now with the assistance of Western nations that are helping arm a country vastly outmatched by Russian forces, in terms of numbers and artillery. Spirit is another matter.
Perhaps more devastating to Mr. Putin, however, is what his unprovoked attack has done to the rest of the free world: unified it in a way it hasn’t been since the Second World War. The course of history has changed in the snap of a finger.
The European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization have a new resolve, having been slapped across the face with the reality that Mr. Putin is clearly an unstable menace who could set his sights on them next. Germany, in particular, has signalled a profound change of direction, vowing to arm itself to the teeth in response to Russia’s aggressions.
Most damaging are the financial sanctions that the United States and other countries have levelled against Russia. Few saw the EU and the U.S. going so far as to kick several big Russian financial institutions off of the SWIFT network, an essential tool in the modern-day world of business transactions. It is how international debts are paid and collected, and it’s always been considered the “nuclear option” of responses the Western world could level against Russia. Not every Russian company is prohibited access to SWIFT, but there’s enough usage to cause severe economic pain.
The measures taken against the Russian Central Bank by the U.S., Canada and other nations could actually be even more devastating and make it impossible for that institution to liquidate its assets.
The outcome of such moves has been predictable: The value of the ruble has crashed by 25 per cent. Russia’s central bank was forced to double its key interest rate to 20 per cent. The longer these punitive financial measures are in place, the greater the damage to the Russian economy. Inflation will almost assuredly rise precipitously. The country’s GDP will begin eroding.
Because this war is being played out on our smartphones, the Russian people have access to information about what is really going on – as opposed to what they’re being told by Mr. Putin’s propaganda arm. You can begin to sense panic, which is why lineups at ATMs in the country are growing longer. With the crash of the ruble, the Russian people are poorer today than they were yesterday. They will be poorer tomorrow than they are today.
John Maynard Keynes once said there was no surer way to create chaos and instability in a country than by debauching its currency. Well, that debauching is now underway.
We have already witnessed anti-war protests in several Russian cities. People are unhappy about an attack on a country in which they have many friends and relatives; and that is going to negatively impact their lives for years to come. Images of horrifying missile raids on innocent Ukrainian civilians has made Mr. Putin a worldwide pariah of whom Russians must be deeply ashamed.
Which brings us back to the man himself.
It’s difficult to see what Mr. Putin’s end game is here. Even if he is successful, wins the war and is able to install a puppet regime in Ukraine, ruling that country will be exceedingly difficult. Thanks to him, the country’s economy will be in ruins. Not long from now, so will Russia’s.
With each passing day, the lives of more and more people in both countries will take a turn for the worse – all because of Mr. Putin’s maniacal lust for power and glory. The people of Russia will surely turn against him. Their leader has threatened nuclear retaliation for any harm sanctions cause his country. Is this a bluff or real? We may soon find out.
Mr. Putin is increasingly a cornered rat, which in many ways makes him even more dangerous.
Keep your Opinions sharp and informed. Get the Opinion newsletter. Sign up today.