WASHINGTON — Well, how are things going for Vladimir Putin? He has been showing a KGB sleuth’s cunning at warfare for over a year now, and he has been doing it against an enemy who is outgunned and outnumbered. Oh yes, and by the way, that enemy is also winning the war. All Putin’s forces have been able to win is the battle for Bakhmut, and Putin had to empty out a prison or two to do it. Of late, his finest soldiers have been convicts, and they generally take a bullet in the head to demonstrate their valor. The Russian casualty list has run to roughly 50,000 dead, and God knows how many were wounded.
I have been doubtful of Putin’s chances from the start. You might recall that in late February 2022, before his 150,000-man army advanced against the Ukrainians, I wrote that “Military experts in the West say that the Ukrainian defenders are no match for the Russians,” who had yet to fire a shot at that point. I predicted that “things in Ukraine are going to come out much differently than they look now” — “now” being late February 2022. A month later, after the Russian army had had a month in the field and its tanks were running out of gas, I wrote, “Whether he (Putin) will win or not is in doubt.” And I compared Putin’s performance to Mussolini’s and his brutality to that of Hitler. As the year progressed, he only got worse.
How did I know, or rather suspect, that the Russian army would perform so severely against the Ukrainian army? It was not because I followed the lead of “military experts in the West.” I followed the lead of Milton Friedman, the free-market economist, who taught that corruption usually followed a nation whose economic system was saddled with the inefficiencies of statism. From top to bottom, there are handouts and subsidies and all the graft that goes with it. Whether you are dealing with the military’s logistics, the government’s disorganization, or the private exchange of goods and services, everyone is in on the take eventually in a statist-run society. In this war, the Russian army was hobbled by armor that ran out of gas, guns and artillery that had not been used for years, and leadership that was inept when it was not blatantly corrupt.
The rise of Yevgeny Prigozhin, until a few weeks ago, head of the Wagner private militia outfit, is a perfect specimen of the weird mediocrity that has filled the ranks of Putin’s government. With Putin’s blessing, Prigozhin rose from being an ordinary prisoner to a hotdog mongerer to the official caterer for Putin’s government. Thence he finally headed the vast private militia that is known as Wagner. Alas, he went too far. His troops rolled up the M-4 highway toward Moscow, which was practically undefended to Putin’s negligence. Had Prigozhin’s militia continued up the M-4 highway, Prigozhin could be president of Russia today. But it appears that the former hotdog salesman lost his nerve, and anyone’s guess is where he will end up.
Yet the rot introduced by Prigozhin and Putin is continuing to spread. Some weeks ago, I spoke of the rot that had spread to and infected the elites of Russian society. I was speaking of the billionaires and the government grandees. This past week, there was evidence of turbulence at the top of the Russian military. One general was killed in Ukraine: Lt. Gen. Oleg Tsokov. Another simply disappeared: Gen. Sergey Surovikin. And another, Maj. Gen. Ivan Popov — one of the rare successes in the Russian ranks — delivered a four-minute recorded diatribe against his superiors. It went viral. He has been replaced.
There is almost no place in Putin’s Russia that is immune to the corruption and incompetence of the present moment. Moreover, it is going to take a long time to cleanse Russia of it. Even the Orthodox Church is crippled by corruption. With the fall of the Soviet Union, one might have thought that the Russian Church would finally be free of the costs of Godless communism. Yet now I am told that a church that for decades was under the rule of the KGB apparently has continued to be corrupted by the rule of Putin’s thugs. For Mother Russia, there is no place to hide.
Glory to Ukraine!
R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr. is the founder and editor-in-chief of The American Spectator. He is a Senior Fellow at the London Center for Policy Research and the author most recently of “The Death of Liberalism,” published by Thomas Nelson, Inc. His memoirs, “How Do We Get Out of Here: Half a Century of Laughter and Mayhem at The American Spectator — From Bobby Kennedy to Donald J. Trump,” will be published by Post Hill Press in September and can be ordered online now from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.