Not content to create an unpopular war in Ukraine that Russia could end up losing, Vladimir Putin is now risking Russia’s economy. On Wednesday, Putin announced Russia’s first mobilization decree since World War II when he ordered 300,000 able-bodied men aged 18 to 30 in the military reserves to fight in Ukraine. This deeply unpopular move sparked widespread protests inside Russia, and masses of people leaving the country.
The move could be suicidal for Putin. In the days following, Russian police have arrested over 2,300 citizens for protesting, and tens of thousands of Russians have now fled the country to avoid the draft. Putin’s mobilization will have “truly catastrophic consequences,” including the death of the Russian economy and the downfall of Putin’s regime, Russian economist Vladislav Inozemtsev says.
Observers wonder if Putin is suicidal, and well they might. Putin continues to pursue his folly in Ukraine despite the consequences, and none of the consequences have been good so far. Ukrainian resolve coupled with massive support from Europe and the United States has led to devastating battlefield reverses for Russia. The conflict that began seven months ago with hapless Ukraine looking very much like the underdog is today looking more and more dire for Putin’s Russia. Now it’s starting to look like Russia is going to lose the war.
The war is so unpopular that protests are breaking out all over the country — a very dangerous activity in a nation as repressive as today’s former Soviet Union. On Monday a gunman opened fire at a military recruitment office in the Siberian region of Irkutsk, injuring one person. In Ryazan, a city 115 miles southeast of Moscow, a man set himself on fire, screaming that he didn’t want to fight in Ukraine. Just this last weekend, a crowd of about 400 composed mostly of women protested in Yakutsk’s city centre, telling police to “let our children live.”
In the face of massive consequences Putin persists. He could solve much of his and the world’s problems by pulling out of Ukraine and rebuilding relationships with the West. But Putin, who isn’t just a narcissist but is also a sociopathic killer, has spent too much of his life not getting his own way. He doesn’t have a lot of experience with compromise or surrender.
The question remains, how bad does it have to get in Russia before Putin’s staunchest supporters turn on him and overthrow him in a Potemkin-like mutiny? To the Russian people he is becoming increasingly unpopular. He is arguably the most hated man in the world inside and outside of Russia. But because he’s a narcissist, don’t count on Putin doing anything rational. He will almost certainly double down on his folly. The likeliest outcome is he will need to be overthrown. And, as ever, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, stay safe.
Robert Harrington is an American expat living in Britain. He is a portrait painter.