We're Starting To Think Putin Might Have Underestimated Ukraine And Its President
File:Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Ilham Aliyev (2019-12-17) 16.jpg ...

“The fight is here, I need ammunition, not a ride,” said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Saturday as Russia's army was bearing down on the country's capital and the American government urged him to evacuate. Just days after the New York Times published an opinion piece from the editor of the Kyiv Independent deriding the former comedian-turned-world-leader as "Seriously in Over His Head," Zelenskyy's resolution and bravery, along with that of his people, has shamed Europe and America into a lightning fast strike on Russia's economy.

As of this writing, the Ukrainians still hold Kyiv, and the ruble is in free fall; new countries are clamoring to join NATO and the European Union; Germany has agreed to up its defense spending and freeze the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline; Russia is functionally severed from the international banking system; and Western governments are making moves to go after Russian oligarchs and their assets in Europe and America. This is clearly not what Vladimir Putin had in mind when he launched an offensive last week to rebuild the Soviet empire, and it wouldn't have happened if we weren't all mainlining videos of Ukrainian grannies telling Russian soldiers to get fucked and Zelenskyy standing defiant in the streets of Kyiv.

Economic Front

Just a week ago, the US was talking about a regime of escalating sanctions to deter Russian aggression and Europe was dragging its feet on pulling out the big economic guns. But Russia was not deterred, and this weekend the US, EU, UK, and Canada upped the pain by cutting Russia's largest banks off from SWIFT, which is essentially the internal email system that allows banks to tell each other to move money. This had been described as the nuclear option, until Putin started threatening to rain actual nukes down on the West.

We are not An Economist, but in rough terms, this means Russia can't access foreign currency to pay for imports. And with everyone in Russia standing in line trying to trade rubles for dollars, euros, pounds, etc., the value of the ruble had already cratered by 30 percent on Sunday and Moscow financial authorities announced that the Monday opening of the Russian stock market would be delayed.

The Russian government had salted away $643 billion in foreign currency reserves, and promised to use the money to prop up the ruble. But this morning, the US functionally cut the Russian Central Bank off from that cash with a new round of Treasury sanctions. And they're doing it in concert with European allies.

Brass tacks, Putin assumed Europe would blanch at the prospect of getting cut off from Russian energy exports. His bet was that Europe needed Russia's oil and gas more than it cared about the democratic world order. He appears to have bet wrong, with Germany putting Nord Stream 2 on ice and even sending surface-to-air missiles and anti-tank weaponry to Ukraine.

Similarly, the US announced sanctions on Russian oligarchs, AKA the yacht class, who tend to park their families and their money safely outside Russia, while in Britain a new law was introduced to force foreign asset holders to divulge the real owner of property held in that country. Meanwhile BP says it will sell its 20 percent stake in Russian oil giant Rosneft, and the Norwegian sovereign wealth fund said it would sell off its $25 billion in Russian assets — whenever Russia gets around to canceling its ban on foreigners selling Russian equities.

In the end, the Russian stock market didn't open at all on Monday.

Violence Front

It's not clear if Putin believed his own propaganda that the Ukrainian army would run away and the people would greet Russian troops as liberators. In the event, the Ukrainians have put up a hell of a fight, and Russian troops have acquitted themselves ... less well. So now, even as Russian diplomats pretend to be engaged in negotiations with their Ukrainian counterparts, the army is ratcheting up its brutality, even to the level of war crimes.

Putin, who claims to be the savior of ethnic Russians in Ukraine, is bombing the shit out of the city of Kharkiv, with its large Russian-speaking population. The Russian army is using cluster bombs in civilian areas; targeting homes, schools, and hospitals; and reportedly used a thermobaric "vacuum bomb," which triggers a high temperature explosion and resultant pressure wave, to destroy an oil refinery.

Civilian casualties are going to rise astronomically, particularly with the arrival of Belarusian troops to aid their Russian allies.

The Propaganda Front

Well, you'd think these guys would have the upper hand here, but apparently it's hard to hide an economic collapse. Russian TV and state websites, which seek to portray the war effort as going splendidly, have been subjected to constant attacks. This morning, several news sites, including Russia's state-run news agency Tass, were defaced with a message reading "Putin makes us lie" and the number 5,300, which is the total Russian troops Ukrainians claim to have killed.

The internet is flooded with images of Ukrainian civilians taking up arms, towing Russian military vehicles away with their tractors, and assembling Molotov cocktails.

Meanwhile, YouTube and Meta have demonetized RT, the EU is banning Sputnik and RT, and Russia has partially blocked Facebook for factchecking its official news reports. And not for nothing, but every time Putin appears with his advisers, he looks like a crazy person.

The guy who paraded around shirtless on horseback and played with tigers is now so terrified of catching Covid from his own advisers that he won't get within 20 feet of them. Very strength, much manly!


It's bad. It's really bad, and Ukraine is in for a world of hurt.

And, yes, we are aware the world doesn't give a shit about the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, or deaths of 50,000 civilians in Syria, or Uighurs in Chinese concentration camps, or the ongoing Ethiopian civil war. We also wish for a world where brown people's suffering was not invisible.

But whatever Vladimir Putin thought was going to happen here did not take place. Far from fracturing, Western alliances have been invigorated by this wake-up call. Europe and the US are united in sanctioning Russia, Kosovo is talking about joining NATO, Ukraine demands to join the EU immediately, and Russia is fast becoming an impoverished pariah.

Also, this guy is in-fucking-credible. Which is perhaps why Putin has reportedly dispatched 400 mercenaries from the Wagner Group to assassinate him.

Slava Ukraini!

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Liz Dye

Liz Dye lives in Baltimore with her wonderful husband and a houseful of teenagers. When she isn't being mad about a thing on the internet, she's hiding in plain sight in the carpool line. She's the one wearing yoga pants glaring at her phone.


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