Vladimir Putin — What’s His Next Move?

Today I Found Out that Mr. Putin has had an interesting year.

· The world got to see him riding a horse, shirtless.

· He threw his support to the pro-Russian rebels in Eastern Ukraine and annexed the Crimea, an area of Ukraine whose entire economy is based on tourism. Now that it is part of the new “war zone,” tourism has dried up.

· To support the Crimea financially, he has had to impose an additional tax on the Russian people — they do not seem overjoyed

And the list goes on. Many fear that Putin’s aggression will continue, because he would somehow like to breathe new life into the Soviet Union of yesteryear. And there are many countries with enough of an ethnic Russian population to make their governments nervous. But, before we get too nervous, let’s review a few things that Mr. Putin is probably looking at right now — things that should sober him up a bit.

The Sanctions Aren’t Going Away

Assets of wealthy Russians in the U.S., UK, and EU countries are still frozen; exports from these countries to Russia have been severely restricted even Switzerland, historically neutral in any conflict, is no longer allowing Russian to make deposits into its banks. Putin has threaten to shut off oil and gas sales to EU countries, but it’s his only “cash cow” right now, so his threats are pretty meaningless.

Beating His Chest Like Some Superhero — No One is Impressed

Putin may look good with no shirt, but that does not make him a superhero or a good leader of his people. Here are just some of the rather “stupid” moves he has made in response to the sanctions.

· He has frozen American adoptions of Russian orphans. And this hurts who? Children, that’s who. Does he think that this will somehow bring America to its knees and lift sanctions?

· He has recently gotten his legislature to pass a new law (May, 2015) allowing the government to declare certain organizations as “undesirable and to put them out of business. These include many American-based foundations that stepped in after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, to support scientific research and education while Russia’s economy was in “free fall.” To date, he has closed the doors of the Open Society Foundation (funds Russian scientists), the MacArthur Foundation (funds educational efforts), and the Dynasty Fund (funding Russian scientific research). Good for you, Mr. Putin! You are now cutting funding to two critical areas of your country’s future, and you have no way to replace that funding!

· He vetoed the UN Security Council Resolution to establish a tribunal to prosecute those responsible for the downing of Malaysian Airline flight MH17, during the height of the Ukrainian crisis. His stated reason? The full investigation is not complete enough. His real reason? The commercial airliner was shot down by a missile he supplied to fully amateur rebels who didn’t even know wat they were shooting — their deaths are on his hands, and he knows it. Other members of the Security Council and the General Assembly at large are livid — way to win friends, Mr. Putin!

· He has announced (July, 2015) that he plans to add 40 new ICBM’s to Russia’s stockpile and modernize 70% of Russia’s current arsenal by 2020. Really? At this point, you don’t have the technology or the money to do so, Mr. Putin! You’re not drinking Kool-Aid — it must be too much Vodka!

From One Financial Crisis to the Next

The sanctions and asset freezing had a pretty immediate impact on the Russian economy, but even more impactful has been the slide in oil and gas prices globally, and the runaway inflation in Russia.

Of course, the financial crisis is the result of three things — sanctions, fall in oil and gas prices, and horrible inflation in an economy that cannot afford it. Westerners who visit Russia and return talk about terribly high prices and shortages — all over Russia. And there is no real solution on the horizon. Putin has looked to China for economic development partnerships, but unfortunately China’s economy is in a very similar freefall right now too. Where do you go next, Mr. Putin? Your ruble is now worth half what it was a year ago. Maybe you could invade another country and lower it by half again!

It’s time for a Reality Check, Mr. Putin!

Putin is not stupid. Unfortunately, however, he has let his ego get the best of him. His behaviors have resulted in two things — condemnation from most of the rest of the world and economic catastrophe at home. Other than his veto of the UN Security resolution and his signing of the Iran deal, he has kept a rather low profile on the world stage of late. Maybe he is off body-building somewhere. His two most notable events is July? Hugging the Greek foreign minister and promising solidarity with that wreck of a country (what — you are going to bail out Greece now?) and hosting an economic summit to which none of the EU countries were invited. (They really couldn’t care less).

One of the most “telling” events this month was a little-publicized phone call by Putin to Obama, during which they discussed some global issues in which they might be able to cooperate. This may be the first sign that Putin would like to return to “normal” relationships with the Western world. But, we should probably not be too optimistic. When his ego gets in the way, Putin will be as erratic as he has shown to be in the past.

A Message to All You Separatists Out There

Take a long, hard look at the Russia that you think may jump in to support your efforts. What did the Georgia invasion and the Ukrainian effort get for Russia? World condemnation and economic catastrophe. If you think your efforts will result in anything different, think again. On July 5, Putin pulled back a lot of the assistance he was giving to the separatists in the Ukraine. They had hoped for much more from Russia, but there they sit — unable to set up a political and economic structure that works, and no help from the man who boasted such a great future for them!

Hotspots for strong separatism are probably in Estonia and Latvia right now. If these separatists think that major military and economic help from Putin will ensure their victory, they are probably pretty much mistaken. Putin has far bigger “fish to fry” at home!

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