A lot of our responses to the War in Ukraine and the related impact on the Cost of Living crisis is driven by two related assumptions.
- That the crisis will be short
- That Vladimir Putin is a madman who has miscalculated and gone for broke on a fool hardy invasion of Ukraine.
But what if that second assumption is wrong? What if Putin’s specific aim here isn’t just to get a bit of extra territory? What if he is working to a different agenda? Here me out on this. What is it that Putin is seeking to do? In positive terms, he wants to restore Russia to her former glory. In negative terms, he wants revenge for the perceived humiliation of the old USSR by the West. It’s the latter that matters. Putin has no particular reason to want to invade the rest of Europe, that would be to go beyond restoring Russia. Nor, I suspect does he have any particular motivation to actually start nuking Western Europe, those holding out the threat suits his purposes.
However, the economic impoverishment of the West and her ultimate humiliation. Now, that would be sweet revenge. From that perspective, you can see the way that the Ukraine invasion has contributed to this. First, it causes significant disruption to international trade and affects the supply of a range of basic products: wheat, bread, oil. Secondly, he has drawn the West into economic conflict at a point where he has significant control over the supply of one crucial product: fuel.
What if Putin’s agenda includes the creation of hyper inflation in the West and if he looks forward to seeing bare shelves in shops and queues for basic provision? Well then, his strategy would certainly have the potential to cause that and the warning signs are flashing red.
If this is so, then it should cause us to think carefully about our own strategy. It has been my argument since day one that indiscriminate sanctions and a complete withdrawal of western engagement with Russia, economically and culturally would be a misstep. Targeting specific financiers would be a different matter. We cannot assume that it will be enough simply to help Ukraine see off the invasion. We need to think in terms of how Putin’s regime might fall.
We also need to think about the measures we are planning to use to respond to the fuel crisis. We cannot think in terms of short-term handouts covering the gap between what fuel is costing and what people can afford. We cannot assume that any nationalisations will be temporary. Indeed, tying up resources in handouts and nationalisations may well play right into Putin’s hands and he’ll enjoy being able to dictate domestic policy in western countries too. Imagine if the very people who have suggested that Putin has interfered in our democracies were to let him do so again.
If Putin’s agenda is to impoverish the West then there are only three ways out of this.
- To accept our fate and prepare for a new economic climate.
- To have a clear strategy that will lead to the removal of Putin’s regime
- To act urgently to remove our dependence on Putin’s Russia for essential items.