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Beware a Weakened Russia

“The worse, the better.” During the short-lived coup attempt by Yevgeny Prigozhin and his Wagner mercenaries over the weekend, it seemed that much of the US commentariat had adopted this old Leninist creed, aimed originally at undermining Tsarist rule and hastening the triumph of Bolshevism. The more trouble Putin faced at home, many American media influencers reasoned, the better off America and the world would be.

In fairness, this belief wasn’t wholly misplaced. It is true that if the Russian military were forced to divert its attention and resources to deal with unrest at home, Ukraine’s chances of breaking through Russia’s depleted defenses and compelling Putin to sue for peace would rise significantly. Fear of this possibility was almost certainly a key factor prompting Putin to seek a quick compromise with Prigozhin and his not-so-merry band of fighters.

But this brief enthusiasm for the attempted coup resulted in a curious alignment of American and Russian hawks. Prigozhin, after all, has been a bitter critic of the go-slow strategy that Putin and the Russian military have adopted in the wake of their failure to capture Kyiv early in the war. Rather than attempting to defeat the high-tech wizardry of America’s real-time intelligence and precision-guided munitions through direct attacks and flanking maneuvers, Putin has tried to turn the fight in Ukraine into a grinding war of attrition. He is betting that Russia’s much larger population base, more resilient economy, and greater capacity to manufacture low-tech but abundant artillery shells and missiles will eventually outlast Western patience and erode Ukraine’s ability to field and equip its own army. This would allow Russia to triumph in Ukraine while minimizing the risks of direct confrontation with the United States and NATO.

Prigozhin and other hardline Russian nationalists have ridiculed Putin’s approach. They argue that Russia should have dealt Ukraine a decisive blow much earlier in the war. The initial invasion, they say, was poorly planned and vastly under-resourced; Putin should long ago have put the country on a true war footing, conscripted and fielded a much larger army, and used much more of its considerable military firepower to win the war immediately, betting that the United States and NATO would not intervene in response. Did America’s laptop warriors realize this was who they were cheering for during the abortive Wagner mutiny?

Read the full piece in Compact Magazine.

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