A while back, in an earlier column about Vladimir Putin’s criminal invasion of Ukraine, I offered the confident opinion that the Russians couldn’t win their heinous war of choice. I stand by that, but things are getting complicated, over there and back here too. It’s not quite as bleak for Putin as it seemed just a couple of weeks ago.
The spectacular gains made around Kharkiv, where Ukraine routed the Russians and seized back several thousand square kilometres of conquered territory from the invaders, hasn’t been followed, yet, by anything similar along the vital south-eastern front around Kherson, where the lines seem to have stabilized while the fighting devolves into a grim war of attrition. There may yet be a breakthrough. A massive Russian contingent is now at risk of being trapped and destroyed on the west side of the Dnipro river, where a ferocious effort to gain back ground and keep Russian pontoon bridges out of operation is costing the Ukrainians precious manpower and huge quantities of western-supplied, high-tech guided munitions. So far, the Russians are holding the line. The disabling of the Kerch bridge, a 12-mile-long prestige project that linked the unlawfully seized Crimean peninsula to mainland Russia, was a gloriously contemptuous kick to Vlad’s nether regions, but the Russian response has been vicious and effective, involving massed ballistic missile, cruise missile, and drone strikes that have terrorized civilian populations and thus far taken out about a third of Ukraine’s electricity production. Not long ago, the Russians were getting close to depleting their stocks of such weapons, but now the theocratic thugs still clinging to power in Iran – God damn them – have stepped in to sell the Russians virtually unlimited quantities of inexpensive “suicide” drones and ballistic missiles, the former in numbers sufficient to run the Ukrainians out of anti-aircraft missiles, the latter beyond any current Ukrainian capacity to intercept. At the same time, Putin’s “partial mobilization” of 300,000 new soldiers has been just as farcical as we could have hoped, garnering mainly ill-trained, poorly equipped troops best described as cannon fodder, yet the new recruits are starting to get to the front lines in meaningful numbers, and even cannon fodder has its uses in plugging gaps in the lines and wearing down the enemy. It’s not clear yet that the raw, untested conscripts can’t make any difference.
Overall, the Russian military seems always on the verge of total collapse, but never quite gets there, and Putin is clearly hoping that over the long winter to come, the Ukrainians will falter as the West grows weary of propping them up, and the vital support of the EU and United States begins to run dry. In that case, If he can just hang on, it might not matter that his army is incompetent, his navy is afraid to get too close to the shore, and his air force is largely AWOL. Ukraine will run out of the expensive ammunition, the guided artillery, Javelins, Stingers, HIMARS and all the rest, which have to this point tipped the scales in their favour. By Spring, Vlad must be thinking, the tanks might yet roll again towards Kyiv.
Fat chance, right? A week ago I’d have scoffed. As things stand there seems little prospect of Putin’s imperialist fantasies ever being realized – in fact, it’s sometimes seemed like even money that his utter failure in this escapade might get him deposed and purged – but now there’s a new, potentially pivotal factor I hadn’t properly considered: the mid-terms, and the f*^%ing Republicans. God damn them.
Now, we’ve all known from the get-go that if the GOP takes back the legislative branch this November it will be an apocalyptically unholy shit show. The litany of horrors to come, should the Republicans regain control of the House and (God forfend) the Senate aren’t even a matter of educated speculation, since they’ve already told us, loud and clear, what to expect. The hive mind comprising the combined intellects of Marjorie Taylor Greene, Matt Gaetz, Paul Gosar, Jim Jordon and the rest of the brain trust have been all over conservative media hollering about the irresponsible mischief they mean to get into. Governing will end; there’ll be no more serious legislation. If Mitch controls the Senate, there’ll be no more judicial appointments either. Everything will devolve into MAGA dinner theatre. The House will probably pass all sorts of ludicrous bills designed to remove reproductive rights, ban gay marriage, savage the social safety net, take away the vote from the wrong sorts of people, remove all regulation of capitalist predation, cut taxes on the rich, and so on. If the GOP also wins the Senate, maybe McConnell will repeal the filibuster and pass them there too, but none of it will become law this time around, since they won’t have the 2/3 majorities needed to overturn a Presidential veto. Still, it’ll give them all a chance to take turns at screaming from the floor, and acting out their red-faced performative grievance. When Donald gets back in it’ll all be waiting there on the books to be rapidly enacted.
Meanwhile, they can get down to exacting revenge, and boy, what revenge they’ll take. There’ll be endless investigations, and subpoenas flying all over the place, which Democratic officials, unlike their GOP counterparts, will feel bound to obey. Everybody from the Secretary of Agriculture to the guy who empties the trash cans at Foggy Bottom will spend hours upon hours being grilled under hot lights by the assorted GOP jackals who’ll then run all the committees. Biden will probably be impeached. Merrick Garland too, most likely, even if he doesn’t indict Trump, and certainly if he does. They’ll go after the hapless Hunter Biden with a vengeance, and Dr. Fauci, too, just for the sheer fun of it, and don’t be surprised if Hillary’s frigging emails make a comeback (no that’s not a joke – no fooling, don’t be shocked if frigging Benghazi gets another investigation or two, and they haul Hillary back for another inquisition in between votes to expel AOC and Adam Schiff from Congress).
Even worse, they’ll start in again with the games of budget chicken and fiscal blackmail. Of course they will. No raising of the debt ceiling unless Social Security and Medicare are gutted, government shutdowns, that sort of thing. Maybe this time they’ll finally blow up the entire world economy.
It’s all so predictable, and would have been even if they hadn’t all been so utterly candid about their planned nihilistic program of chaos and cruelty. What I didn’t see coming, and should have, was this, which issued a few days back from the ass-kissing mouth of GOP House Leader (and likely soon to be Speaker) Kevin McCarthy:
I think people are gonna be sitting in a recession, and they’re not going to write a blank check to Ukraine. They just won’t do it. Then there’s the things [the Biden administration] is not doing domestically. Not doing the border and people begin to weigh that. Ukraine is important, but at the same time it can’t be the only thing they do and it can’t be a blank check.
Oh, sure, Kevin, why not? Let’s leave Ukraine twisting in the wind, just like Donald did with the Kurds, that worked out well, didn’t it? Jesus Beverly Christ. I don’t know why this surprises me. Putin’s an authoritarian. Trump therefore loves the bastard, and so, perforce, must the MAGA-fied GOP. Thus if Kevin McCarthy gets his way, which is Donald’s way, the policy of the United States will be to favour the interests of a tyrannical, rampaging, wannabe Ivan the Terrible over the western-leaning democracy he’s trying, and so far failing, to annex, butchering civilians as he goes. All of Biden’s painstaking work to repair and strengthen the Western alliance system, and coax our allies into forming a united front against Putin’s neo-colonialist war crimes, will go down the crapper, and it’ll be all but impossible to ask European nations, suffering far more than America from their actions to oppose Putin, to keep up the pressure when the U.S. won’t. Ukraine will fall, Vlad, who’s made so many disastrous miscalculations, will wrap himself in the mantle of military genius, and then who knows, maybe Moldova will be next, once he’s licked his wounds for a while and patched up his battered military machine. Maybe grab the rest of Georgia. So many neighbours still left to conquer.
This would be a geopolitical catastrophe.
McCarthy’s breathtakingly irresponsible statements might already be having an effect on Putin’s war planning. Vlad looks at the same polls we do, and knows the Republicans are quite likely to retake at least the House in a few weeks (and who knows what influence operations his troll farms and disinformation factories are running to push things his way, though one hopes we’re more on top of this than in 2016). With the situation on the battlefield balanced on a knife’s edge, the aid and comfort now being supplied by Kevin and his merry band of Trumpanistas may be just what it takes to tip the Russian scales in favour of toughing it out in the short run, even if the Kherson front collapses in the interim. War is such an unpredictable business (just ask Putin), and the next three weeks may be crucial. McCarthy may wind up influencing the outcome even if he doesn’t become Speaker.
Not everybody in the GOP is happy about this, which perhaps provides grounds for some measure of rational hope. In the long tradition of politics making strange bedfellows, I find myself forced, this morning, to applaud a statement released by Mitch McConnell, of all people, who had this to say in an obvious rebuke to McCarthy:
God help me, you’ve no idea how much it pains me to say this, but here goes: damn straight, Mitch. Damn f’ing straight. Maybe now you can get McCarthy into a little room somewhere, and beat some badly needed sense into him? Remember, Vlad’s an avid student of how the U.S. legislative process works, and understands perfectly that all aid for Ukraine must pass through the House, and there’s nothing the Senate can do to keep Kevin from doing Trump’s bidding if that’s what he’s determined to do. Somebody’s got to make the moron walk this back, ASAP. Don’t forget, as you mull over what you can do to stop America from yet again abandoning an ally, that half a world away a newly-emboldened President Xi casts his eyes across the Taiwan Strait, and makes his own plans of conquest.