Skip to content
Subscriber Only
Businessweek
Economics

Merry Christmas, Mr. Putin

The Russian president thought he could outlast the opprobrium of the easily distracted West. It’s a gamble he’s lost

Euphoria, by definition, is short-lived. In the days after Russia’s annexation of Crimea in February, Russian President Vladimir Putin could be forgiven for thinking he’d secured himself a resounding victory: He’d outmaneuvered the liberal West, which was more interested in avoiding conflict than confronting aggression, and aroused the historical yearning of his subjects, still angry and resentful about the makeup of the post-Cold War settlement. His approval numbers soared to 88 percent.

Now, half a year later, euphoria has been replaced by panic. In the span of 48 hours, the ruble shed more than 10 percent of its value to the dollar, tallying a loss of 50 percent this year—making it the world’s worst-performing currency. A surprise and desperate rate hike by the country’s central bank, which brought the main interest rate to 17 percent, only accelerated the crash. The Russian economy is projected to contract by 5 percent in 2015 if oil prices stay at their current low level. Putin’s gamble was that he could withstand the economic costs of his foreign policy adventurism, outlast the easily distracted West, and do just enough to placate the international markets. That’s a gamble he’s lost.