In hindsight, Vladimir Putin overreached badly when he invaded Crimea; it set off a round of crushing sanctions, costing him and his oligarchs billions of dollars. Putin then tried to turn things around by installing his puppet Donald Trump into office. But it turns out that was even more of an overreach, as Trump is an unstable disaster who hasn’t been able to remove the Obama-era sanctions, which was Trump’s only real job. Now it’s gotten worse for Putin.
Protesters in Russia now seem to sense blood in the water. You’d have to ask them why they’ve concluded that Vladimir Putin has become vulnerable enough that they can safely make moves against him. But they appear to have guessed correctly. Last week there were reports that Putin was no longer even arresting all of the protesters. This is a guy who used to murder protesters. Now he’s going soft – and it’s not because he’s suddenly grown a conscience.
Now Putin’s political party has lost badly in the new local elections in Moscow, according to the BBC. Again, this is a guy who used to shamelessly rig elections in his favor. Now he’s either too afraid to take the risk of continuing to rig them in the face of increasing protests, or he no longer has the muscle to pull off rigging them.
Vladimir Putin could still be a long way away from taking a fall. But we’re now seeing a definite pattern in which he’s either incrementally pulling his punches when it comes to protests and elections for fear of backlash, or he’s incrementally losing influence over the officials in position to arrest protesters and rig vote totals.
Vladimir Putin’s installation of Donald Trump has been a disaster for the United States and the West. But that doesn’t do Putin any good when his continued overreaching has left him more vulnerable than ever back home. His antics have cost the Russian oligarchs billions of dollars. If they ultimately decide he’s too much of a liability to their fortunes, they’ll ditch him and move on. Putin is in a weaker position than when he installed Trump, and now he’s losing control.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report