Former ambassador says the ‘Putin era is over’ -- but warns America to brace itself for what is coming next

Former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman is blunt when commenting on Russian President Vladimir Putin's future in the wake of his brutal invasion of Ukraine.

“He’s done. The Putin era is over,” Huntsman said. “The only thing we need to now understand is the level of damage he’s going to do as he goes. I think that could be substantial, and we have to be prepared for that.” The former ambassador's comments came during a speech to the Economic Club of Minnesota, the Salt Lake Tribune reports.

Huntsman was the chief U.S. diplomat in Moscow from 2017 to 2019 under the Trump administration. He's not at all surprised by Putin’s move on Ukraine.

“It’s very telling when you walk into Putin’s office, and you see a portrait on the wall of Peter the Great. That’s not there by accident,” Huntsman said. “There’s a sort of emotional connection Putin feels there. He’s a man of empire — not just the Soviet empire but the Russian empire.”

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Huntsman believes the longer the conflict drags on, the greater the chances of escalation. “He’s [Putin] a master of escalation. It keeps me up at night just thinking about it. Putin will continue with force, and it will get worse,” Huntsman said. “We have to be extremely careful, so this does not evolve into a confrontation where horrible weapons are introduced to the battlefield like tactical nuclear weapons.”

How the war ends is impossible to predict. Some are hopeful that the crippling effect of economic sanctions on Russia and Ukraine's much fiercer-than-expected resistance to the Russian onslaught might engender a quick end to the fighting. Huntsman isn't so sure. “Does this mean Putin begins to have second thoughts about what he’s done? No, that’s not Putin’s style. He’ll double down, and things will get rougher,” Huntsman warned. “I have feelings of tremendous unease about what the days and weeks ahead hold.”

The former diplomat also has another important concern: what happens to Russia if Putin is removed from power. Huntsman says the damage already done to that country from the conflict is immense, leading to greater instability and he warns the U.S. needs to be prepared.

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