The Russian people are living in a Potemkin village
We awoke with a shock to the political system. Putin is being challenged by his lapdog, Yevgeny Prigozhin, who heads Putin's extra military, Wagner.
Last year, I wrote twice about Putin's world-dominating aims. History may have caught up with him in the form of an unlikely foe who possesses the one quality most world leaders don't have: Prigozhin does not fear death. In this way, he is like Putin. But Putin has obtained everything he wants, while Prigozhin hasn't.
This makes him a dangerous adversary. He is a dead man if he does not succeed. And so are his inner circle of officers and co-conspirators.
Mercenaries are largely unfamiliar to most Americans. Wagner operates on three continents doing basic military work and sometimes the kind of wetwork that we don't like to talk about but happens all the time in other less civilized countries.
Putin has cultivated a persona of control, especially in the international community and particularly against any public enemies, like Alexi Navalny, currently in prison in Russia and the victim of a near poisoning widely believed to have been ordered by Putin. American political types and intelligence sources appear to have been caught flat-footed. I don't understand this.
Why? Putin is an existential threat to his own citizens, especially the oligarchs and political class that owe their existence to Putin's continued reign. It can't be emphasized enough that Putin is a dictator, as much as Xi Jinping, recently called such by President Biden. Putin faces rising international pressure from the West to end the war in Ukraine on terms favorable to the forces of freedom. Cast aside all the rhetoric you've heard about China's "no limits" partnership with Russia by witnessing China's utter lack of munitions delivery to Russia to read the tea leaves. Russia has financial help from China and India, among others; that much is true. Still, the kind of help it needs is arms, ammunition, and manpower, with only Iran and North Korea willing to take Russia's money so far.
The issue on everyone's mind is the nuclear wild card, which Putin waves around regularly with his move this month to deliver tactical nukes to Belarus. The issue that should be on everyone's mind is, what are the checks and balances on Putin himself? Students of Russian history know that the assassination of Russian leaders and party functionaries and sometimes their disappearance is more common than you can imagine. Everyone has children; everyone wants a future, and very few want a madman to commit nuclear Armageddon.
As I have written, the process has at times been averted by someone in the kill chain more than once. Call it a miracle or, as I do, an act of self-preservation, but Russians love their families as much (or maybe even more) as we do. Remember, Russia is a land of poets.
Putin has many enemies. Who's to say that Putin's time in office might be shorter than he anticipates? We can hope for a more Western-looking successor who does not seek to create a new empire and believes in freedom and democracy for his people. Wouldn't that be a good thing?
This is possible but can't be taken for granted. Putin, an ex-KGB operative, sees the world as open to plunder and sees Biden as weak and ineffective. This is a dangerous combination when nuclear weapons and wars are being talked about. The possibility of miscalculation is ever present for all parties. However, the West has no choice but to resist Putin's territorial ambitions. That's something everyday Americans likely don't understand well enough.
The next few days will tell the story. Putin beats back Prigozhin, or we'll see a new leader appear in Russia. Largely, we are along for the ride in any case. What we can do is quickly recognize new leadership if it appears. Not to do so risks giving Putin more time to regroup and retain his leadership. As long as he is in power or alive, Putin remains an existential threat to the free world.
One more thing: China will be watching what happens with keen interest. We have no idea how firm Xi's grip on power is. Popular conclusions are frequently wrong; witness what is happening right now in Russia. On the current trajectory, we will be fighting China within 15–25 years, perhaps much sooner if Taiwan is the trigger. Adventurism is curbed when leaders start to realize how mortal they are and how fleeting power can be. What is happening in Russia could help defuse a future situation in China.
We all watch with more than transitory interest as history is made right before our eyes. Putin has cultivated a carefully curated version of Russia that is largely untrue. Like a dam bursting, we saw the legend of the ten-foot-tall Russian soldier crumble before our eyes as Ukraine dispatched two hundred thousand Russians, dead or wounded. Leadership, which commences from the top, has been found not just wanting, but largely a fantasy. None of us saw that coming.
Putin is surrounded by his "yes" men. His insiders tell him he is brilliant, a historical figure on the verge of a new world order. None of that is true. The Russian people, shielded from much of the war news, are slowly coming to understand that they live in a Potemkin village of their own.
In that situation, all bets are off as the dam breaks with the forces of billions of gallons of water behind it. Pray that peace finds its way out of this mess.
Allan J. Feifer — patriot, author, businessman, and thinker. Read more about Allan, his background, and his ideas to create a better tomorrow at www.1plus1equals2.com.