His decision to attack Ukraine is frequently described as a “gamble” but consider how much of a gamble it is. He didn’t merely place a huge bet, he bet on a trifecta.
- First, that Russia could take Ukraine quickly without much blood spilling.
- Second, that Zelensky would go wobbly and Ukrainian resolve would break, clearing the way for a puppet ruler to be installed without much resistance.
- Third, that the west would be too weak and divided to impose painful sanctions on Russia at a moment of high inflation, knowing how westerners will end up sharing that economic pain.
That first bet is still winnable, I suppose, but each day that passes makes it less likely. …
The second bet, arguably the most important, is already hopelessly lost. Zelensky has inspired the western world with his leadership during the crisis. By refusing to leave the country, he’s galvanized the resistance in Ukraine and beyond. There are reports of men from NATO countries in eastern Europe crossing into Ukraine to aid in the country’s defense. Even Putin’s repulsive nationalist bootlickers in western Europe, figures like Marine Le Pen, Eric Zemmour, and Matteo Salvini, have been sufficiently shamed by it that they’re now anti-war. I’ve never seen a rout like the one playing out at this moment in the battle for international public opinion. Russia has been crushed utterly.
The idea of a puppet regime taking power and ruling over a demoralized, placid Ukrainian population now seems ridiculous. Putin’s best-case scenario will require defeating a determined Ukrainian insurgency bent on ousting his satrap. Russia could be funneling troops and money down this sinkhole for years.
The third bet is on the brink of being lost, with potentially cataclysmic consequences for Russia’s economy. The country could be cut off from SWIFT in a matter of days, a move supported even by European leaders otherwise well disposed to Putin …
A strong surge of domestic support for the war would be a consolation to Putin but that’s absent in this case too. Russian state media has reportedly taken to suppressing information about the scale of the war, fearful of how the public would react if it knew Russia was attacking Ukraine far beyond the Donbas.
And the calamity from sanctions is only just beginning to unfold. “Russians have been stunned at how quickly the economic impact of the war was being felt,” the Times reported this morning. “The ruble hit its lowest level ever against the dollar, which traded at about 84 rubles on Saturday compared to 74 a few weeks ago. That sent prices for imports surging, while sanctions on Russia’s largest banks wreaked havoc in the financial markets and new export restrictions promised to scramble supply chains.”
Unofficially, Russian banks are offering 171 rubles per dollar, a drop of over 50% in the value of the Russian currency in a week.
All of this has the makings of a debacle. For all the hype about Putin’s alleged strategic “genius,” he may now find himself in a position in which any move he makes will cause Russia’s position to further deteriorate.
If he retreats, it’ll be an historic humiliation for a proud military power. If he escalates, the already ferocious international backlash will get worse.
It’ll cinch Russia’s eviction from SWIFT, convince even reluctant European allies to boost their supplies of weapons to Ukraine, and possibly lead to domestic unrest in Russia.
The world really hates the idea of armies conquering countries and annexing them by force. Self determination is much more popular nowadays.
Putin has taken on the globalists in a clumsy characteristically brutal Russian fashion.
Glenn Reynolds and friend:
I’m pro-Ukraine, but I get nervous when the establishment agrees with me.
I’m just liking Ukraine pantsing Russia for all the reasons you’ve mentioned. Makes China think twice. Underscores the value of an armed citizenry. Makes Putin look like a fool.
UPDATE: Russian central bank more than doubles rates to 20%. ATMs running out of cash.
hat-tip Stephen Neil, Scott of the Pacific