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Leonid Bershidsky

Putin’s Autarky Choice Is Between Stalin and Hitler

As more and more Russians feel greater economic pain, nothing short of a full, nationwide descent into fascism can sustain the regime.

You ain’t seen nothing yet.

You ain’t seen nothing yet.

Photographer: Konstantin Zavrazhin/Getty Images Europe

Two months after Vladimir Putin ordered an invasion of Ukraine, it’s clear there will be no quick return to any kind of normalcy for Russia, and particularly of the economic kind. With no negotiated end to the war in sight, Russia is set for a protracted period of living under tough Western sanctions and thus under enforced autarky. 

Putin’s line, echoed by other Russian government figures, is that Russia is too big to be isolated and the West is not big enough to isolate it. While that’s true as far as it goes, isolation is a straw man. The goal of the post-invasion sanctions is far more practical — to undermine Putin’s ability to wage the current war and the likely future ones. The sanctions are designed to weaken, not to isolate, and while Russia can draw on its own past experience as well as on that of modern-day sanctioned nations such as Iran, it is in uncharted territory: The hurdles it faces are higher than those that Joseph Stalin and the ayatollahs have had to jump.