Thursday, December 18 marks probably the most important press conference of Vladimir Putin’s political career as president of the Russian Federation. One thing is certain, he has amazing publicists and isn’t afraid of touting his successes and blaming others for the failures:
But with a currency at almost free fall levels and oil prices far below state-projected revenue levels–just what is he going to do about it?
My own speculation for the past year has been that Putin only had to hold out until the winter for everything to blow over with the political nightmare in the Ukraine. Russian strategy has always been tied to the winter–today is no different. Large parts of Eastern Europe (and even central Europe) are dependent on Russian oil and gas for heating–sanctions were simply not going to last past the need for keeping the public’s homes warm.
I’m interested in the press conference tomorrow. Putin has always been a slippery character–nothing ever holds him down. But his policies in the Ukraine, Crimea, and Syria have backed him into a corner where he’d have to play his final ace in energy–and that ace is losing power fast.
Eastern Europe is still going to need the energy this year–but at incredibly lower prices in hard currency (transactions of oil are almost always denominated in dollars). Real injections of hard currency is going to be the only answer to the currency crisis.
And to make matters worse–he has even more foreign policy fires to put out.
The Ukraine is still far from over–with congressional approval for even more sanctions being signed into law by President Obama this week.
ISIS has been making a deliberate attempt to move into Chechnya, with some sources estimating thousands of Chechen fighters already operating with ISIS in Syria and Iraq. The Islamic State making an overt move on Chechnya (while definitely splitting the continuity of their territory) would be a significant advancement for the movement against a world power.
ISIS in Syria continues to jeopardize Russian naval activities in the Mediterranean, with Russia having a “Material-Technical Support Point” (usually just known as a “base,” but that’s politics) in Tartus.
And probably the most significant political insult–Obama’s announcement about beginning normalization with Cuba.
It seems rather unlikely that the announcement of better Cuban/US relations was anything but exploiting Russia’s current weakness–what better time to snatch away their most significant ally in the Western Hemisphere?
Putin has a lot to answer for–but he is also trapped and dangerous. There’s simply no way to predict what he’s going to say tomorrow.
Image source: Public domain via Kremlin press service