In Russia, one man stands against the Putin agenda

Ilya Ponomarev offers an eminently sensible critique of Vladi­mir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine from a pro-Russian point of view. Ukraine and Russia, he says, are inextricably bound by culture and history, but by launching a military action, Putin has driven Ukraine into the arms of NATO and ensured that Ukrainians will oppose any union with Moscow. “He has accomplished exactly the opposite of his agenda,” says Ponomarev, a legislator from the Siberian city of Novosibirsk.

It says a lot about the current state of Russia that, for articulating this view and for casting the sole vote in the Duma against the annexation of Crimea, Ponomarev is being vilified in state media and on a billboard in the center of Moscow as a “national traitor.” The leader of his own party has asked Putin for leave to expel him or lift his parliamentary immunity so that he can be prosecuted. On a tour of Washington last week, the 38-year-old self-styled socialist conceded with a shrug that he may well be tried on trumped-up financial charges when he returns home…

Ponomarev still thinks Putin is doomed. But the collapse, he says, won’t have a domestic trigger. Instead, he predicts a foreign shock will be decisive — like the Franco-Prussian war that brought down the last Bonaparte. That could happen in Ukraine, where Ponomarev sees Putin as trapped: “If he withdraws and tries to decrease tension, he will be seen as a traitor by the nationalists, who will say he is weak and too dependent on the West.” But if Putin continues to sponsor armed separatists, capital will continue to flee his own country. Ponomarev is betting the total loss will hit $150 billion, or $1,000 for every Russian.