VLADIMIR Putin’s obdurate bite-back happened just as Ireland’s latest cost-of-living package was unveiled – reminding us that Finance Minister’s Michael McGrath’s best efforts to support people are at best a sticking plaster.
utin’s belligerent message was no big surprise. But it reinforced a growing view that his illegal and immoral invasion of Ukraine will drag into next year at least. That means continued resultant economic and social pressures on Ireland – along with all other countries.
For now, if you can ignore a huge long-term debt overhang which is big by international standards, the short-term news is good. Mr McGrath and Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe have one more time flashed the cash with a €1.3bn package.
This included mainly once-off welfare payments and also showed the uncanny knack of the tourist sector to yet again belatedly get their way in the battle to further extend the 9pc lower Vat rate. That late win against the odds and all signals from Government in recent weeks is worthy of a study unto itself.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was upbeat as he predicted there was enough economic firepower for next year, thanks to the 2022 €5bn budget surplus. Green Party leader Eamon Ryan happily chimed in with a projected extra €300m-€600m in State revenue from windfall taxes on exaggerated energy revenues, which will help fund sustained war fallout subsidies.
So, despite Putin’s mendacity and unrepentant distortions of history to justify more war, Ireland could be worse fixed to face the Russian invasion fallout. The message from Government Buildings so far is that the funds are there to cope for next year as well.
The question is what happens if Putin continues his “special operations” in Ukraine deep into 2024 and beyond? Everyone agrees this war is unlikely to end in 2023 – many speculate it will continue much longer.
In a mix of bravado and selective history re-writing, Putin accused the West of using the Ukraine conflict to “be done” with Russia, rhetorically insisting “traitors” will be punished. But his arguments that Moscow had successfully withstood Western sanctions will, sadly, chime with many on the anti-Putin side of the argument.
The kindest estimate is that sanctions are “a long game” which are inconvenient for the Moscow regime at times. But despite some inconveniences, daily life in Russia continues (with mobilisation of hundreds of thousands, and over one million dissidents fleeing the country) artificially depressing unemployment rates.
The question is what happens if Putin continues his ‘special operations’ in Ukraine deep into 2024 and beyond?
Speaking three days before the anniversary of Russian tanks rolling into Ukraine, Putin said Western elites’ clear goal was to inflict a strategic defeat on Russia. “The responsibility for fuelling the Ukrainian conflict, for its escalation, for the number of victims lies completely with Western elites,” said Putin, repeating very contentious about the West supporting neo-Nazi forces in Ukraine.
The Russian president said his country remained determined to fulfil “all its tasks” in Ukraine. As both Moscow and Kyiv ramp up their war efforts, things will likely be a lot more bloody and destructive before there is any talk of peace.
Putin predicted inflation would soon stabilise around its target level of 4pc. He noted that Russian billionaires had their assets, foreign accounts and yachts seized due to sanctions. Some in Western intelligence circles predict that this elite group could ultimately take down the Putin regime – though many also shudder at the prospective chaos which might follow such an outcome.
For now, Putin played the populist card, saying “no one among ordinary people felt sorry” for these plutocrats deprived of riches due to sanctions.
“Everyone must understand that the sources of well-being and the future should be only here, in their native country: Russia. Invest in Russia – the state and society will support you,” he said.