Russian president Vladimir Putin last week claimed exclusive rights to miles of territory in the Arctic leading many to think he is losing his mind and becoming increasingly erratic. After launching a strategically questionable invasion of Ukraine, which attracted crippling sanctions, Putin’s Arctic foray is likely one of his few options to remain popular at home by keeping Russians distracted from prevailing economic hardships. In addition to sanctions, the country’s economy has been hit hard by record low oil prices and a plunging currency.
Though the miles of bare ice have inherent value in the form of vast resources of fossil fuels, their exploitation could take decades to realize, leading many to ponder the reasonability of Putin’s move. According to analysts, there is none, only a desperate attempt at hiding his own inefficiencies and fallibility, a craft he is increasingly becoming compelled to resort to.
Putin’s options in Ukraine are limited to almost nil. His Ukrainian dream of seizing Novorossiya and building a bridge to Crimea are shattered thanks to staunch Ukrainian resistance and international condemnation. His other campaign of expanding territory into Ukraine is not only too costly in terms of currency but also in blood. It would most certainly also spark a new round of sanctions from the U.S. and EU, something his country’s citizens would vehemently oppose.
Putin is not only facing failure in Ukraine. His economic record can only be modestly described as being a terrible mess. Oil prices have dropped to less than $50 a barrel, massively impacting the country that depends on oil for half its budget. The growth of shale, renewables and liquefied natural gas, the three areas where Russia is weak and the emergence of Iran from years of sanctions back into the global oil markets look set to only make things worse for the Kremlin.
Russia is finding itself increasingly haunted by the ghosts of wars Putin started. According to analyst Anna Arutunyan from Moscow, “Putin’s return to the presidential seat heralded a rather sudden pivot towards a deep-seated domestic nationalism. Yet nationalism as a state policy and identity, initially implemented to shore up Kremlin power, now has the Kremlin itself trapped and threatened by forces that it initially nurtured, but can no longer fully control.”
The attempt at going north toward the Arctic Sea will put Russia under the direct fire from both the U.S. and Canada and could spell more sanctions for the struggling country. Parts of the Russian population are growing tired of Putin’s antics. Only time will tell how long his tyrannical rampage will prevail. In the meantime his country and its citizens continue to suffer with no end in sight.