Dem 51
image description
GOP 49
image description

Putin Gets Bitten by The Dogs of War

It's not a political story yet, although it could easily become one. When Russian President Vladimir Putin unleashed the dogs of war and invaded Ukraine, he thought they would have Ukraine on its knees in a week or two and he would be a hero. He was definitely not expecting that it would jeopardize his own rule. When Napoleon invaded Russia, he never thought that would lead to a restoration of the French monarchy and his own exile. When Hitler invaded Poland, he wasn't expecting it to lead to his suicide and the partition of Germany. When Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, he wasn't expecting that it would result in his eventual death by hanging. Starting a war is funny like that. It is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you're going to get.

The one thing all tyrants fear is an alternative to their rule. Putin thought he might be attacked from the left, so he locked up democracy activist Alexei Navalny. Oops. The threat was from the ultranationalist right. Putin never dreamed that the mercenary leader he created, Yevgeniy Prigozhin, who leads a force of de facto mercenaries called the Wagner Group, would turn out to be his biggest problem. But he did. Prigozhin led a mutiny and started marching on Moscow. He captured the city of Rostov, from which the Russian military runs the war in Ukraine. Then he started moving an army of 4,000 criminals armed with tanks, fighting vehicles, air defense systems, and other heavy military gear towards Moscow. They got within 200 miles of the capital. Then Putin panicked and got the dictator of Belarus, Aleksandr Lukashenko, to offer Prigozhin asylum. The Russian leader also agreed not to try to prosecute Prigozhin, even though only hours earlier he said Prigozhin had committed treason. On the other hand, Putin didn't say he wouldn't put some special flavoring in Prigozhin's tea.

According to the Institute for the Study of War, which is usually pretty accurate, the Wagner Group will be dissolved and merged into the regular Russian army, even though most of the fighters are criminals who were given the opportunity to join Wagner and then be freed after 6 months—in the unlikely event they were still alive. Of course, all of them remember well who put them in prison and who freed them, so their loyalty is questionable. Will they fight, and if so, for which side? Will there be fragging (criminal soldiers killing their own officers) in order to desert? And will Prigozhin now forget his dreams of overthrowing Putin and take up gardening? If the CIA knows, no one there is talking.

The optics of Putin needing Lukashenko to save his a** is humiliating and may have gotten Lukashenko some undisclosed benefits, but there is no honor among thieves or dictators. Russians may think: "Why didn't Putin use overwhelming force to squash Prigozhin like a bug? Was it because the war has decimated the army so much that it is no longer a match for a bunch of untrained criminals? Why didn't the FSB know the rebellion was coming and warn Putin?" Expect personnel changes there. The CIA knew about this for over a week. Kurt Volker, the former U.S. ambassador to NATO, said: "Going after Prigozhin is a finger in the dike. The bigger picture is the end of Putinism." Evelyn Farkas, a former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Russia, said that Putin made a huge mistake over the years by letting Prigozhin get so rich and powerful. For a guy who used to run a hot dog stand in then-Leningrad, Prigozhin has done well for himself—possibly until now.

Even though Putin may have won this battle, his image as invincible has been destroyed forever. The next mutiny may be a lot harder to put down, especially if the war in Ukraine starts looking like an actual military defeat. Needless to say, there is not going to be any public polling asking whether ordinary Russians approve or disapprove of the job Putin is doing. But that doesn't matter. What does matter is what the leaders of the military, the National Guard, the FSB, the GRU, and the other security services think and how they act.

Now here's how this could affect politics in the U.S. Many Republican politicians, from Donald Trump on down, revere Putin and have basically sided with Russia against Ukraine. What happens to them if Russia loses the war or is forced to withdraw on unfavorable terms and/or Putin is deposed? Trump, for one, has called Putin a genius. What will Trump say if Putin is killed by his own countrymen or deposed by them? So far, Trump is backing Putin and suggesting that whoever comes next could be worse.

Joe Biden also has a lot riding on the war. He has steadfastly backed Ukraine and opposed Putin. It is almost like Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Putin are fighting a proxy war for Biden and Trump, but they probably don't think of it that way. The facts on the ground can change quickly, and the time until Nov. 8, 2024 is forever in terms of the war and Putin's tenure as president of Russia. Almost any outcome could affect the U.S. election. A Ukrainian victory would help Biden. A Russian victory would help Trump (or Gov. Ron DeSantis, R-FL). A stalemate would probably help Trump more than Biden since Trump would then call Biden a weak leader who can't even beat a weak country with only 24,000 nuclear weapons. Reaction to regime change would depend on who came next. If the new guy is worse than the old guy, Trump could claim: "I supported Putin because he was a moderate." If the new guy is Navalny, Biden will claim: "Due to my leadership Russia is now heading towards democracy."

The domestic politicking instigated by the coup attempt has already started. Former representative Adam Kinzinger already took a pot shot at Trump, Tucker Carlson, Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Josh Hawley (R-MO), Rep. Marjorie Taylor Green (R-GA) and former Democrat Tulsi Gabbard for supporting Russia. More will follow.

At this point, the future is completely unknowable. Almost anything can happen. (V)

This item appeared on Read it Monday through Friday for political and election news, Saturday for answers to reader's questions, and Sunday for letters from readers.                     State polls                     All Senate candidates