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March 1, 2022

Putin Is Feeling It on Multiple Fronts

Worldwide economic sanctions and everyday Russian voices are weighing in on the war.

Vladimir Putin’s military has met stiffer-than-expected resistance from Ukrainian forces so far, but there are two other fronts to this war that may well pose even more serious challenges: the economic front and the home front.

First, the economic front: As global markets react to an invasion that’s been almost universally condemned — China, waiting on you — the Russian ruble took a huge hit yesterday, plunging some 30% to a record low in the wake of sanctions from Western countries, including measures to block some Russian banks from SWIFT, a key international payment system. At one point, before recovering, the Russian dollar was trading for less than an American penny. Say what we will about the ills and evils of globalism, but it appears to come in handy when the goal is checking an unhinged despot.

And this is only the beginning. As the Wall Street Journal editorial board writes: “New sanctions announced Monday by the U.S. Treasury prohibit most transactions with Russia’s central bank and sovereign-wealth fund, in tandem with similar measures imposed by other developed economies. This makes it all but impossible for Moscow to trade much of its $631 billion foreign-exchange reserves to shore up the ruble.”

Unfortunately, measures such as these tend to hit hardest those who can least afford it — in this case, the Russian people. And that’s all the more reason to focus on Putin’s oligarch friends, the ones who keep him in power. As the editors point out: “Doing so would blunt the impact of Kremlin propaganda arguing these measures are ‘anti-Russian’ rather than ‘anti-Putin.’ It also would disrupt the economic cronyism Mr. Putin uses to maintain power.”

That’s what the U.S. and the West seem to be doing, having created a task force to track down and snatch up the Putin Crime Family’s ill-gotten gains. Indeed, his wealthy friends might come to reassess their support for the increasingly erratic ex-KGB officer if this task force is able to “identify, hunt down, and freeze the assets of sanctioned Russian companies and oligarchs,” as a senior Biden official put it. “We’ll go after their yachts, their luxury apartments, their money, and their ability to send their kids to fancy colleges in the West.”

Stoli not being what it used to be, the Russian economy has become a one-trick Clydesdale: They do energy and little else. Thus, if Joe Biden would undo his idiotic restrictions on the American energy industry, and if the OPEC nations could be made to see the virtue in stepping up their own production, global demand and dollars might have somewhere else to go besides Russia.

Still, National Review’s Jim Geraghty asks an excellent question — one with historical significance: “Just how much economic devastation [do] we want to inflict upon a country with roughly 4,500 nuclear warheads?” A bitter and stinging defeat of Putin is essential; otherwise, he’ll try it again sometime. “But,” he writes, “one painful lesson of World War I was that if victorious nations humiliate the defeated nations, the defeated people may simmer in resentment and suppressed rage … and then elect some demagogue who [creates] even bigger problems.”

Then there’s the Russian people themselves, who seem to see what an atrocity is being committed by their head of state. As the Washington Examiner reports: “For the fourth day in a row, crowds took to the streets of more than 40 of Russia’s biggest cities and faced police in riot gear as they protested the invasion of neighboring Ukraine. Demonstrations were reported in Moscow, Putin’s hometown of St. Petersburg, and as far north as Siberia. The protests came despite a social media blackout and threats from the government to imprison ‘traitors’ who aid or support Ukraine.”

As of last Thursday, 1,675 people were detained during protests, including at least 919 in Moscow. By Sunday, those numbers had swelled to 2,800.

Hey, when everyone’s a traitor, no one’s a traitor.

There are also acts of individual bravery coming out of Russia. Tennis player Andrey Rublev, for example, bravely made his opinion known by writing “No War Please” on the camera after his tennis match in Dubai.

Finally, the Russian people will soon hear stories from their own sons as they filter back home to Russia — stories like this one from a Russian soldier who texted his mom shortly before his death: “Mama, I’m in Ukraine. There is a real war raging here. I’m afraid. We are bombing all of the cities … even targeting civilians.”

Vladimir Putin is being squeezed from all sides, and rightly so.

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