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Timothy L. O'Brien

The West Weaponizes Russia’s Central Bank Against Putin

The sanctions have the potential to devastate the country’s economy and sow the seeds of Putin’s downfall.

Long lines formed at ATM machines in Moscow.

Long lines formed at ATM machines in Moscow.

Photographer: Andrey Rudakov/Bloomberg

Vladimir Putin came to power on New Year’s Eve in 1999 after an economic meltdown, rampant corruption and political uncertainty had clouded Russia’s prospects. Putin brought the promise of equity and order to a country rocked by pell-mell privatizations of state-controlled companies, fears of domestic terrorism and a plunge in the value of its currency, the ruble.

Putin, a former intelligence officer who also oversaw the transfer of state assets to the Russian Federation, fashioned himself a student of his country’s history and economy. Stung by the loss of standing that greeted the Soviet Union’s dissolution, and understandably disgusted by the first generation of oligarchs’ thievery, he pursued policies informed by resentment, cold-blooded rationalism and his own sense of patriotism.