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The Next Record-Breaking Crisis Putin Is Dragging Us Into

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Photo Illustration by Luis G. Rendon/The Daily Beast/Getty

It’s a new school year in Russia and the kids are learning the darndest things about the achievements of Vladimir Putin.

“This is unique,” the Russian president recently told a group of enthusiastic youngsters as he unveiled the 460-foot tall Sun of Moscow ferris wheel (16 feet higher than the London Eye). “There’s nothing like that in Europe!”

Thanks to Putin’s ambition to make his regime first in everything, Guinness World Records last year certified that Russians choreographed the most folks ever to stand on a bed of nails (151); whipped up the largest slab of coagulated milk (2,153 pounds), and clocked the fastest time for someone to dress in a clown costume (30.7 seconds).

In 2022, decades after Guinness verified that the Soviet military launched the first rats into outer space in 1960, Russia’s No. 1 despot has a new arsenal of objectively measurable statistics: launching the biggest conventional military attack (330,000 troops) to trigger the largest land war in Europe (230,000 square miles) since World War II. Putin can also boast the most generals killed in battle (13) over the shortest period of time (six months), while simultaneously gutting 45 percent of his country’s GDP.

Informed of the slew of new feats to add to Russia’s current tally of some 5,037 Guinness World Records, agency spokesman Doug Male said evaluators on Russia’s invasion day of Feb. 24 stopped corroborating Russian firsts in protest. “Guinness curates lighthearted, celebrated records,” Male told The Daily Beast. “Russia’s Lake Baikal in Siberia will remain the world’s deepest freshwater lake, but we’re not in the business of chronicling their firsts in war.”

That has left the job to stalwarts like Anastasiya Shapochkina, president of the Eastern Circles Policy Institute and a lecturer on EU-Russia political and economic relations at Sciences Po in Paris.

“The Russians appear willing to offer Guinness numbers,” Shapochkina told The Daily Beast. “Not to us, though; sharing any information that’s connected to the military sector is now a crime. There are glimpses, but we’re now seeing statistical indicators through a closing window into an economy that’s falling under military supervision.”

“Russia,” Shapochkina cautions, “is moving toward a war economy.”

Knock ‘em dead, Putin. The global financial system hasn’t even thought about authenticating a full-tilt boogie war economy since the 1940s, when nations prioritized the production of goods and services, either to fuel Adolf Hitler’s aggression or counterattack the belligerence of the Axis Powers.

“The military budgets in the U.S. and Europe are window-dressed and entirely unfit to respond to this type of conflict, because a war economy is very difficult to sell to the electorate—even though Russia has willfully created a global energy and food crisis that’s already brought America and Europe into the battle,” Shapochkina said.

A war economy is indeed an awkward sell in 21st century America. As during past world wars, rationing becomes reality, key prices and wages are put under government control, and today’s Individual Retirement Accounts would drop faster than a Putin oligarch accidentally falling out a window.

“[A war economy] is not merely a shock to a healthy system,” University of Texas economist James K. Galbraith, chairman of Economists for Peace and Security, explained in 2001. “The public obligation is to do what is necessary to promote the military effort, to protect and defend the home territory, and especially to maintain the physical well-being, solidarity, and morale of the people.”

Shapochkina said her team has negligible confidence in any of the data points Western leaders have deployed to financially neuter Putin, shut down his war in Ukraine, or exorcise his clear motivation to construct a war economy. “Economies are nowadays more emotional than numerical and particularly at a time of war,” she frets. “Statistics of course still play a huge role in policymaking and economic forecasting, but Russia is manipulating them by default. It’s a tool of war.”

But let’s face it. Statistics can be strangled into admitting anything. So when seeking reliable direction through the fog of war, Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman is the guy to ask whether America is anywhere near acknowledging—or reacting to–the idea of a full-blown war economy.

“The West isn’t exactly at war with Russia,” Krugman recently mused on the subject in The New York Times. “However, it isn’t exactly not at war, either,” he hedged, echoing wartime President Harry Truman’s appeal for a “one-armed economist so that the guy could never make a statement and then say ‘on the other hand.’”

Putin Isn’t Just Insane. It’s Far Worse Than That.

Since Putin invaded Ukraine, roiling the global energy and other commodity markets, politicians on both sides of the Atlantic have served up all sorts of anti-inflationary methods to insulate the West from the economic backlash of Putin’s war. Still, as President Lyndon Johnson piquantly observed of offering a solution for a stubborn economic problem, “making a speech on economics is a bit like pissing down your leg,” he said. “It seems hot to you but never to anyone else.”

Speaking with The Daily Beast by phone from a few miles south of the Sun of Moscow ferris wheel, a former official at the Ministry of Justice only half wisecracks that the spiraling costs of the war have left Putin’s economists braced for eventual bankruptcy.

“The best way to lose a war is to believe it will never come, and that’s the current conventional wisdom in the West,” Shapochkina says. “Remember, economically blighted Nazi Germany in 1938 successfully invaded its neighbors without going into a war economy until 1943. Putin has all the money he needs to continue the war in Ukraine for as long as he wants. But his endgame has never been just Ukraine.”

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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