Policymakers should be ready for any contingency ranging from a long-term occupation of Ukraine to Vladimir Putin losing the confidence of the security services that keep him in power.
“If Ukraine succeeds in producing a breakthrough that causes the Russian position to crumble, we must not let anxiety about what a panicky Putin might do lead us to block Ukraine’s rightful objective of liberating all its occupied territory by force if Russia fails to concede by agreement. When push comes to shove, Putin is a coward,” former CIA Clandestine Service officer Gregory Sims wrote in a post at The Cipher Brief.
“The man who comically distanced himself from even his closest advisors out of fear of COVID and froze like a rabbit in the face of Prigozhin’s rebellion will not risk his certain fiery annihilation should he unleash a nuclear war.”
Sims believes the elimination of “operationally competent senior commanders like Generals Sergey Surovikin and Ivan Popov, as well as military-connected pro-war influencers popular among the ranks, such as Igor Girkin” could hurt Russia’s military operations. His suggestion that their elimination could hurt morale is not serious considering that most of the men in the Russian army today are conscripts without a high degree of military background or loyalties.
Killing Prigozhin Sent Message to Putin’s Rivals
At the moment, Russia’s strategy seems to be to throw as many conscripts into the field as cannon fodder as possible. The Wagner mutiny in July served as an embarrassment to Putin. It showed that he could be made to look vulnerable by the same mercenaries who had served his interests in Ukraine, Africa, and the Middle East. Putin appears to have dealt with his potential foes by blowing up their aircraft, killing Yevgeny Prigozhin and Wagner founder Dmitry Utkin allegedly with a bomb planted onboard their aircraft.
Purportedly downing the aircraft sent a powerful message to anyone looking to rebel against Putin that doing so was a bad idea. The collapse of Putin’s Russia looked like a distinct possibility as Wagner mercenaries seized the city of Rostov-on-Don and pushed within 100 miles of Moscow. Prigozhin learned the hard way that if you go for the king you have to take his head.
Putin is a bit like a mafia kingpin. He knows that he only stays at the top if he can prove that he is the alpha. Killing Prigozhin and Utkin sent that message.
Speculation of Russia’s Collapse in Ukriane Premature
“Concerns about Russia’s collapse in Ukraine are premature though not completely unreasonable. Despite the fact that much of Russia’s best equipment has been taken out and it is unable to reconstruct many of its most advanced machinery, for now, at least Russian forces are deeply entrenched in key strategic areas and the counteroffensive is expected to take a month,” geopolitical analyst Irina Tsukerman told 19Fortyfive. “While the active combat part of the war may be slowing down and the momentum is on Ukraine’s side, the war itself is far from over.”
Tsukerman continued, “Indeed, if nothing else, Russia is forming a broader and more unified front with the help of its new and growing allies ― China, Iran, North Korea, Belarus ― and despite seeming uncertainty around the circumstances of Prigozhin’s death, continues active push for international relevance around the world by both security and political means.”
Russia has been able to turn to Iran and other sources for munitions to replace what it has expended in the war in Ukraine.
Ukraine’s military has struggled against Russia’s conscript army despite a high desertion rate and poor morale. It has suffered due to poor strategy and tactics, and weak leadership from Washington when it comes to providing Ukraine with the HIMARS, F-16s, and other weapons systems it needs.
That could change over the long run as Ukraine’s military becomes better trained, better equipped, and effective against the Russian conscripts and convicts. That will not happen in the near term.
John Rossomando is a defense and counterterrorism analyst and served as Senior Analyst for Counterterrorism at The Investigative Project on Terrorism for eight years. His work has been featured in numerous publications such as The American Thinker, The National Interest, National Review Online, Daily Wire, Red Alert Politics, CNSNews.com, The Daily Caller, Human Events, Newsmax, The American Spectator, TownHall.com, and Crisis Magazine. He also served as senior managing editor of The Bulletin, a 100,000-circulation daily newspaper in Philadelphia, and received the Pennsylvania Associated Press Managing Editors first-place award for his reporting.
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