It was visible on screen, in his occasional breathlessness, that Putin felt himself at the end of his tether. After a very long and emotional tirade just finished on television directed against the United States for expanding NATO across Eastern Europe and aiming to take in Ukraine, Putin announced Russia’s recognition of the independence of the breakaway territories in Eastern Ukraine and promised that Moscow would sign a pact of mutual assistance with them; moreover if the government in Kiev did not stop its military action against them, then blood would flow.
The instructions ambassador Antonov had received from Smolenskaya to offer a tid bit to the Americans in the form of assurances about the rebel areas came to nothing and were evidently disowned by the boss, Lavrov, when President Biden failed to offer Putin anything more than an unspecified delay in Ukraine’s admission to NATO.
The impact of all this on the former Soviet republics will be such as to amplify their determination to cling to NATO rather than the reverse. One should not forget that back in 1999, when Putin was seeking election to the presidency, he offered nothing during a marathon radio interview except to re-establish the borders of the former Soviet Union. But one cannot eat patriotism. Standards of living in Russia have been falling over the past decade and inflation is rising rapidly. The predicted rate of growth in GNP announced for the year is 2-3%, which in no way catches up with inflation. In the stock market traders expressed the fear that everything would collapse as it did in 2008. And as the trading day went on, culminating in the unanticipated meeting of the Security Council, the market dropped and along with it the rouble. By the end of the day the market was down 14%. There will be more to come. Whatever sanctions are imposed by NATO will surely only make matters worse.