aslund66_Mikhail SvetlovGetty Images_putin Mikhail SvetlovGetty Images

Putin's Last Gasp?

Although US intelligence agencies are warning that Russia is mobilizing its ground forces for an attack on Ukraine, it is still tempting to think that Russian President Vladimir Putin would never actually follow through on such a risky move. Yet when a strongman has so few good options for retaining power, the risk calculus changes.

WASHINGTON, DC – Today’s Russia poses a clear and present danger to world peace. In July, President Vladimir Putin published a long article, “About the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians,” effectively denying the legitimacy of Ukraine’s existence as an independent nation-state. He also has pursued a policy of military mobilization around Ukraine’s border, first in April and even more intensively in recent weeks. Senior Ukrainian and US officials, including President Joe Biden, are warning that Russia may launch a major ground war against Ukraine in early 2022.

Various causes of Russia’s aggressiveness have been suggested, but the most important one focuses on Russian decline, and whether this has made the country more dangerous. Is Putin genuinely intent on attacking Ukraine? If so, what should Ukraine and the West do about it?

The decline is obvious. Russia’s economy has been completely stagnant since 2014 (and mostly stagnant since 2009), and Putin has made clear that he has no interest in delivering economic growth or improved living standards. In US dollar terms, Russia’s GDP fell from $2.3 trillion in 2013 to $1.5 trillion in 2020. Since Putin first invaded Ukraine and illegally annexed Crimea in 2014, Russian households’ real (inflation-adjusted) disposable income has fallen by 10%.

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