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What Is Putin Afraid Of?
Plus: Zelensky's angry and urgent plea
“Give us the tools, and we will finish the job.” — Winston Churchill
“I hope the sky will be shut down. If you don't have strength and courage to do that, then give me the planes.” — Volodymir Zelensky
“There are weeks where decades happen.” – V. Lenin
These have been, as the NYT writes, days that “shook the world, upending long-held assumptions, sundering decades of productive engagement, and wiping out billions of dollars of investment in Russia.”
The world has rallied to Ukraine’s cause. And, yet, a humanitarian disaster is unfolding, as the Ukrainian pleas for tangible help are becoming more urgent. President Zelensky is calling for a “no-fly” zone, fighter jets, and an embargo on Russian oil.
Despite the very public shows of support from NATO, Zelensky’s rhetoric has been harsh:
“The NATO summit took place today — weak summit, confused summit, summit which shows that not everyone considers the struggle for freedom to be Europe's No. 1 goal."
"All the people who will die starting from this day will also die because of you. Because of your weakness, because of your disunity," a furious Zelensky said.
"Is this the NATO we wanted? Is this the alliance you were building? ... You will not be able to buy us off with liters of fuel for liters of our blood, shed for our common Europe, for our common freedom, for our common future," he added, referring to supplies NATO has delivered to Ukraine.
Meanwhile, far from the battlefront…
Putin is trying to crush dissent inside Russia itself. And that is a massive tell.
As his invasion of Ukraine has turned increasingly ugly, he has shuttered independent media outlets, and imposed draconian restrictions on speech and the media.
Russian President Vladimir Putin's creeping authoritarianism got a lot more overt on Friday when he signed a censorship bill into law making it impossible for news organizations to accurately report the news in or from Russia. The law, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, makes it a crime to disseminate "fake" information about the invasion of Ukraine, with a penalty of up to 15 years in prison for anyone convicted. The definition of "fake" is, of course, left up to the Russian government. The New York Times reported that the law, which could take effect as soon as Saturday, could make it illegal to merely refer to the Ukraine war as a war.
Putin is supposed to be the Strong Man, the savvy genius who bestrides the world, the master of all he surveys — the new Peter the Great.
But this is not a sign of confidence, is it?
So what is Putin afraid of?
What stories does Putin not want his fellow Russians to read? Is he afraid that they will hear stories of Ukrainian resolve and courage? And that Ukrainians did not greet the invaders as liberators?
Is he worried that the Russian people will learn that he has made their country a pariah nation, and that the rest of the world is mocking his lies, miscalculations, and absurd self-isolation?
Is he afraid that his people will find out that his recklessness may bring the world to the edge of a nuclear apocalypse?
What images does he not want them to see?
Is he afraid that his countrymen will see pictures of the atrocities he has unleashed? The bombed out cities? The civilian victims? The refugees? The children?
Does he worry how Russians will react to news about military setbacks? Dead Russian soldiers? Pictures of abandoned and captured equipment?
Is he afraid his people will learn of the massive anti-Russian protests around the world?
Or the protests in places like St. Petersburg itself, were Russians risk arrest and imprisonment for protesting his war that cannot be called a war?
ANTON VAGANOV |Credit: REUTERS
One thing is for certain: Putin definitely does not want Russians to watch this —>
Exit take: Putin’s crackdown smells like… weakness.
I’m sorry, but the grownups are working here…
ICYMI, Donald Trump had some Deep Thoughts last night.
At a GOP donor dinner “Trump mused to donors that we should take our F-22 planes, ‘put the Chinese flag on them and bomb the shit out" of Russia. "And then we say, China did it, we didn't do, China did it, and then they start fighting with each other and we sit back and watch.’”
Some outlets reported this as a “joke.”
ICYMI. Former veep Mike Pence also spoke to the donors this weekend.
“Ask yourself, where would our friends in Eastern Europe be today if they were not in NATO? Where would Russian tanks be today if NATO had not expanded the borders of freedom?” he said. “There is no room in this party for apologists for Putin.”
While Pence did not explicitly refer to the former president by name, Trump has been among the loudest, and only, Republican voices supporting Putin. Trump recently described Putin as “smart,” “savvy” and “a genius,” while insisting the attack on Ukraine never would have happened on his watch.
Good? But, when Pence says that “There is no room in this party for apologists for Putin,” he is clearly wrong. For all his dumbfuckery, Trump still dominates the GOP and remains the party’s 2024 front-runner. And then there is this, from September 2016:
America First, amirite?
A few days ago, Marjorie Taylor Greene spoke at a white nationalist conference founded by Nicholas Fuentes.
Here he is on Trump’s new social media site:
Exit take: Right-wing “patriotism” has… evolved.
Old and Busted: America is a shining city on a hill.
New hotness: F*ck it.
“This is the Putin wing of the GOP.”
Remember who they are
As our friend, Peter Wehner, writes: “What a heartbreaking story, one of countless we're seeing. Just a reminder that the side that did this is the side that Tucker Carlson was rooting for. And here's Mike Pompeo: "I have enormous respect for [Putin]...an elegantly sophisticated counterpart."
[NPR reporter Mary Louise] Kelly recounted what happened next in a report that accompanied her interview. She said a staffer escorted her to Pompeo’s private sitting room, where he was waiting….
“He shouted at me for about the same amount of time as the interview itself had lasted,” Kelly reported.
“He asked me, ‘Do you think Americans care about Ukraine?’ ” she continued. “He used the f-word in that sentence and many others. He asked if I could find Ukraine on a map. I said yes; he called out for his aides to bring him a map of the world with no writing, no countries marked. I pointed to Ukraine; he put the map away. He said, ‘People will hear about this.’ ”
Kelly said Pompeo was not “not happy to have been questioned about Ukraine,” though during the recorded interview, she told Pompeo that she cleared the topics of Ukraine and Iran with his aides beforehand.
1. Putin and the Nuclear End Game
Stephen Peter Rosen is the Beton Michael Kaneb Professor of National Security and Military Affairs at Harvard University. Read his immensely important piece in this weekend’s Bulwark.
In the case of an escalation, we would expect to see intelligence reports from the French or German government that Russia is arming its battlefield ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads and has activated the command circuits used for issuing authorization to employ nuclear weapons. Putin would most likely privately approach either German Prime Minister Olaf Scholz or French President Emmanuel Macron, who has thus far been his chosen interlocutor, and tell them that they have a last chance to avoid a nuclear strike by ending NATO military supplies to Ukraine through German air bases.
At which point, what would NATO do? And what could America do? These are questions we ought to be gaming out now, even if we hope such a moment does not come to pass.
2. Paths That Would Eventually Lead to American Involvement to Help Protect Ukraine
Because, if—as it seems likely—their military is incapable of achieving Putin’s political objectives, barbarity will increase, escalation will increase, and there could come a point where we are targeted, or we are pulled by conscience to want to be involved.
Mona Charen: And does that mean that we go to war with Russia?
Schake: Regrettably, it could mean that at some point.