A week ago, Vladimir Putin seemed unstoppable. His troops had entered Ukraine in overwhelming numbers and it seemed a matter of days before the resistance was crushed.
The West seemed powerless to do anything about it. The US and its allies did not agree to the unprecedented sanctions they had threatened and instead carried out some limited measures against individual oligarchs and banks.
Mr. Putin was the master manipulator who had duped the West. The lasting image of him was the cocky figure bullying his National Security Council for cameras in a huge marble hall of the Kremlin. But a week can be a long time in war. Mr Putin cut a diminished figure when he met the same National Security Council via video link from an undisclosed location on Thursday.
There were dark spots under his eyes and he seemed to falter as he stood to honor the Russian dead.
Away from the cameras, according to US intelligence, there were unusual outbursts of anger. Normally cold as ice, Mr. Putin has felt the heat and taken his frustration out on his inner circle.
This was the week that Mr. Putin lost control on several fronts: militarily on the battlefield in Ukraine; Economically, at home in Russia, and diplomatically, since the West has allied against him.
On the second day of the invasion last Friday, the situation looked bleak, but there were already small signs of what was to come. The Pentagon noted that Russia had failed to take control of Ukrainian airspace and that Russian troops were advancing more slowly than expected.
Thousands of Russians took to the streets to protest against the war, despite threats of arrest.
Initial western sanctions were limited, but Chancellor Olaf Scholz had surprised everyone by shutting down the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline.
And from Ukraine, stories about courage began to come. A recording circulated on social media of Ukrainian troops refusing to surrender with the words “Russian warship, fuck yourself.”
And President Volodymyr Zelenskyy quashed rumors he had fled with a self-made video standing shoulder to shoulder with ministers in the heart of the capital. “The President is here. We’re all here,” he said.
The next day it turned out that the US had offered to bring him to safety from Ukraine to lead a government-in-exile there. “The fight is here,” he replied. “I need ammo, not a ride.”
When video surfaced of abandoned Russian tanks, Ukraine’s resilience began to have an impact on the West.
Germany and Hungary had resisted banning Russia from the Swift international banking system, but on Saturday they agreed and the sanctions began to gain traction.
On the same day, Germany dropped its opposition to arming Ukraine and announced it would send rockets and missiles.
But a major blow was to come for Mr Putin on Sunday, when Chancellor Scholz announced Germany would overturn its entire defense policy and immediately upgrade to €100 billion in new military spending.
In Berlin it is said that it was Mr. Zelensky who changed Mr. Scholz’s mind.
A video conference between the President of Ukraine and EU leaders is said to have had a profound impact on Mr Scholz. “This could be the last time you see me alive,” Zelensky reportedly told them.
Mr Putin had lost control of the narrative to Mr Zelensky and it was beginning to have an impact.
On the same Sunday that Moscow was first clearly shaken, Mr Putin ordered Russia’s nuclear defenses to be put on alert at a televised meeting with Sergie Shoigu, his defense minister.
The look of unguarded fear on General Shoigu’s face said it all. Russia’s invasion went awry, and the stakes kept getting higher.
By now it was clear that the war was not going according to plan. Mr Putin appeared to have expected a quick race to Kyiv, the assassination or capture of Mr Zelenksy and the beheading of the Ukrainian regime.
But the rush to Kyiv had failed. The Ukrainians fought back and the Russian forces faltered.
Worse was to come for Mr. Putin when the tightened sanctions went into effect on Monday. The ruble suffered a record 30 percent loss and panicked Russians began queuing at the banks to withdraw their savings.
Mr Putin held a televised meeting with his top economic advisers and again it was the facial expressions that told the story.
Mr Putin had built up a $630 billion war chest in foreign exchange reserves for years and believed he could weather the storm. But then came the hammer blow when the US, UK and EU imposed sanctions on Russia’s central bank, cutting off its access to reserves held abroad.
Big Western companies dumped Russian investments as quickly as possible. BP announced it would divest a $14 billion stake in Russia’s state oil company Rosneft. Shell said it would pull out of €3 billion projects with Gazprom, Russia’s state-owned gas company.
The Russian economy went into free fall. There were warnings that Russia could not pay its national debt.
The West is after Russian oligarchs from Mr Putin’s circle, France and Germany are confiscating their yachts.
But not only the super-rich are affected. Russia has been cut off from the outside world after its airlines were banned from European airspace and their leasing contracts for most of their planes were hit by sanctions, with reports of planes being impounded at foreign airports.
Apple and Ikea suspended sales in Russia; Volkswagen ordered an immediate export stop; BMW halted production at a Russian factory and Ford pulled out of a joint venture, while Hollywood pulled new releases from Russian cinemas.
By now it was clear that Russia’s post-communist dream of a Western consumer lifestyle was dead, buried in the rubble of Kharkiv and Mariupol.
On the ground in Ukraine, things continued to go badly for Mr. Putin. The Kremlin appeared to have given up hope of a quick operation.
“I would like to say that the special military operation is on schedule and according to plan,” Mr Putin said at a televised meeting of his National Security Council on Thursday, but his insistence gave him away. He was trying too hard to convince.
Gone was the pomp and bombast of a week ago when Mr Putin held the meeting via videoconference from an undisclosed location.
But Mr. Putin is not down yet. Most analysts agree that he can still turn things around on the battlefield, returning to tried and tested Russian tactics to wreak maximum destruction.
Civilian targets have come under heavy artillery fire in recent days and there are fears that Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities could suffer the same fate as Grozny and parts of Aleppo, which were destroyed by Russian forces.
Calls from the West to overthrow Putin are growing louder – a prominent US Senator has called for his assassination.
But it’s far from clear whether anyone in Russia is ready to challenge his rule. Experienced Russia observers agree that his fate is now inseparable from that of Ukraine.
If Russia does not prevail in the war – or Mr. Putin does not find a formula that will allow him to claim victory – he will not survive in power.
How far he is willing to go for it remains to be seen. Sergey Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, warned this week that a third world war would be “nuclear and destructive.”
https://www.independent.ie/world-news/europe/what-a-difference-a-week-makes-the-seven-days-in-which-vladimir-putin-lost-control-41413981.html What a Difference a Week Makes: The Seven Days Vladimir Putin Lost Control