By John Foley
The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.
MOSCOW – What a difference a plunging ruble makes. A few short days ago, Russian President Vladimir Putin was a strategic genius, outplaying Western leaders everywhere – in the Middle East, in China, and especially in Ukraine. Today, he's the destroyer of his country and his political life could be in jeopardy.
The Central Bank of Russia was successful for about two hours. Its overnight decision to hike the main interest rate from 10.5 percent to 17 percent initially shocked markets enough to arrest the rouble’s fall after the currency sank almost 12 percent on Dec. 15. But the Russian currency quickly resumed its slide, smashing record lows – as if the central bank hadn’t moved at all. That leaves policymakers with few sensible short-term options. Further out, only an end to the Ukrainian stand-off and related Western sanctions or sharply higher oil prices could soothe markets. Neither is likely to happen soon.
The “day of silence” observed this week by the Ukrainian army and its pro-Russian rebel opponents was an event of enormous economic importance for global economics as well as geopolitics.