October 24, 2022
Putin is a dictator with staggering riches and a nuclear arsenal. In February, he audaciously started “World War III”, and upended the world order by invading Ukraine, but only the initial victim has been directly fighting back. That is because the West and the rest are kept at bay by Putin’s ultimate weapon of mass destruction which is that he frightens foes or targets into believing that he’s capable of anything. So punches have been pulled and NATO has only given Kyiv enough weapons to avoid losing, but not enough as yet to win. This guarantees he will never stop, says American businessman Bill Browder, who has been Putin’s nemesis since 2013 when his lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, was murdered in Moscow for uncovering a massive scam by Putin insiders. Browder estimates that Putin has stolen $1 trillion in 22 years from the Russian people, and that the West must understand that he is not a legitimate national leader with aspirations and grievances, but a mobster with a gang who controls a country. “Why did he invade Ukraine? Because he needed a war. This has nothing to do with NATO enlargement. It has to do with a simple, greedy little man who needed a war,” Browder said in an interview with me recently.
“Putin’s approval ratings in 2000 after the Chechen War ended soared, then went down. They went up again in 2008 with the invasion of Georgia, then sank. They increased in 2014 after Crimea was annexed, then fell, and now they have jumped since the Ukrainian invasion in February this year,” he stated. “War keeps him in power. He can’t retire. He has killed too many, stolen too much, and is desperately afraid of losing power and dying.”
Browder’s bestselling books Red Notice and Freezing Order detail his struggles before and after he convinced 35 countries to pass his “Magnitsky Act” which sanctions and confiscates assets from Russian, or any corrupt officials, who violate human rights. “He has tried to stop me at every juncture using arrest warrants, kidnapping plots and lawsuits. None of it worked and now there are 35 countries with Magnitsky Acts,” he said. “If more people stood up to him, he’d quickly be exposed as the fraud that he is.”
Browder said in an interview that unrest inside Russia won’t bring about change, that Putin cannot be assassinated (Putin’s praetorian guard totals 500,000), that he’s not sick, that he won’t quit, that he is a “psychopath”, and that any replacement would be the same. The only solution is his defeat and the collapse of the Russian regime, and this can only happen once the West understands, as Ukraine does, that Putin’s only effective weapons are intimidation and bluff, not his army. He flamboyantly makes war and assassinates or jails his political rivals to generate fear, but if pushed out of Ukraine, Putin and his gang will flee.
“People over-estimate his abilities,” he said. “He holds a 2 or 3, and we have a Full House. Putin could be wiped out in an afternoon by NATO.” Putin’s Sphinx-like demeanor, without expression or inflection in his voice, makes him incomprehensible and results in people “projecting nonsense onto him”. Browder says Putin currently plays for time with his bungling armed forces in the hope that “Ukraine fatigue” will set in among allies, a danger that recently surfaced. This month, House Republican Chair Kevin McCarthy threatened that if his party wins the November mid-terms there will be “no more blank checks for Ukraine.” Others have begun to trot out Kremlin talking points that Ukraine must surrender and agree to remain neutral and stay out of NATO.
Browder believes such “fatigue” can be averted, and Ukraine can defeat Putin, if the $350 billion US in Russian assets, frozen in the world’s central banks after the invasion, was handed over to Ukraine to finance its defence. “It’s Russian government money, Russia launched the war, and the seizure is punishment, not a legal issue. This $350 billion would make the most material difference for Ukraine going forward. It would also silence those concerned about the flood of money out of NATO countries, led by the U.S., to pay for a war to stop Putin.”
Naturally, Russian proxies raise legal questions as to the justification for such a heist, but it’s simply pre-emptive reparations. European politicians are infuriated by the damage Putin has caused to Ukraine and their economies. Most of the money is frozen in European central banks, with one-third in the U.S., and politicians in both regions are now lining up in favor of a transfer of these frozen funds as well as proceeds from yachts and mansions taken from oligarchs. The Baltics and Germany openly support the initiative, as does the Chair of the European Union Commission, the U.S. and Canada. It’s justice. As Estonia’s Prime Minister Kaja Kallas said, “it was time the EU move ahead with making the aggressor pay.”
Browder also theorizes that Putin’s invasion was a major miscalculation, not because his military was inept, but for another reason. “He thought the war would end in three days because he bribed people in Ukraine, thinking they would look the other way, but they took his money and fought off the invasion.”
If so, this is simply another grift gone sideways, that will continue and expand until Putin can no longer get away with it. Diplomacy won’t work, which is why the West must unleash all its devastating weapons: isolate Russia by declaring it a terrorist nation, boot it out of the United Nations Security Council, increase military support to Ukraine, and shift Russia’s $350 billion in assets plus oligarch assets to Ukraine to finance its war and eventual rebuild.
“Should Ukraine be neutral or be allowed to join NATO is not the question,” said Browder. “Either Russia wins or Ukraine wins. If Russia wins, Putin moves next into Estonia, then into other neighboring countries. Then it’s every man for himself, the law of the jungle. Ukraine just has to win.”