I explained a month ago that a Russian invasion of Ukraine would be a disaster for Russia in today’s global economy. Russia would be financially crippled by sanctions and would alienate its European oil and gas customers.
Moreover, I explained, the Ukrainians are not defenseless, and would probably put up a spirited fight. The Russians had little to gain in an invasion and much to lose. I confidently concluded that Vladimir Putin was not foolish enough to invade.
Events have proved me right in every respect except my conclusion. It turns out that Putin was indeed foolish enough to invade.
His invasion has not gone well. The Ukrainians have destroyed hundreds of Russian tanks, aircraft and artillery. They’ve killed four Russian generals. They’ve blunted the Russian attack and are now counterattacking.
Stymied by a Ukrainian resistance that is not just spirited but heroic, the Russians have resorted to systematically murdering Ukrainian civilians. They figure that If they can’t conquer Kyiv, they’ll obliterate it.
The Russians expected to win this war in days. Their conscripts are now badly equipped, badly trained, badly fueled, badly warmed, badly led and badly fed. Most of all, they’re badly motivated in fighting Ukrainians who are defending their homes and families.
The best Putin can hope for is a long slog through Ukrainian cities where his forces will be preyed upon by urban guerrillas armed with anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles around every corner.
Internationally, Russia is now a pariah to international banking, business, commerce, entertainment and even Democrats (though criticism from The Squad and the likes of Bernie and Fauxcahontas has been noticeably absent). They’re still selling some oil, but much of it is at a deep discount. Western companies have pulled out of Russia and western governments have frozen Russian assets. Oligarchs are seeing their yachts seized.
Russian bonds – mostly held by Russians – are trading for nickels on the dollar. The Russian stock market has been closed for three weeks. The plunge in Russian stocks traded on non-Russian markets suggests that upon reopening the Russian market will collapse.
Ironically, Russia’s invasion of Europe just to the east of NATO has delivered a shot of much needed mojo to that organization. Putin imagined that sclerotic and toothless NATO was out to get him. Now, they are. And they’re no longer sclerotic and toothless. Putin’s paranoia proved self-fulfilling.
This won’t unwind quickly. Even if Putin pulls out of Ukraine tomorrow, and he won’t, the sanctions will continue for years and NATO will be reinvigorated for a decade.
Russia has already lost this war. They may still take Ukraine (though the odds of that get worse by the day) but Russia is in a much worse position than it was a month ago. For all the misery Putin has inflicted on Ukraine, he has inflicted nearly as much on his own people, nearly all of whom have nothing to do with his criminal misadventure.
Successful people take risks, but they calculate them well. Putin has been good at that in the past, but he miscalculated this one. Putin’s gambit is a game of Russian Roulette with all six chambers loaded. Whatever happens now, he loses.
Putin is said to admire Peter the Great, the 6’8” tall tsar who pulled Russia into the modern world. Putin at 5’6” will be remembered as Vlad the Mad, the little wannabe tsar who dragged Russia back to the Dark Ages.
The challenge over the years ahead will be to get the Russians back here rather than letting them drag us back there. Putin’s, um, retirement would help.