“Why don’t Russians rise up and overthrow Putin, who is costing his country so much?”

That is a question you run across often if you read news from several sources. The primary reason, as I’ve understood it, is that Putin controls the media, and the Russian media only allow news that paints Putin in a positive light.

Reputable polls show that Putin really is popular with the Russian people, overall, and his control of news coverage is probably the reason.

But I’ve continued to wonder about the oligarchs, the Russian billionaires who gained their fabulous riches by feeding off once state-owned enterprises — fossil fuels, especially, but also mining — that fell into the hands of the oligarchs and Russia’s tainted forms of kickback-fueled private ownership.

The Ukraine war and sanctions against Russia are costing the oligarchs dearly. Why do they not rise up against Putin?

Russian journalist Oleg Kashin addresses these and other issues in an interesting piece in the New York Times.

What is called corruption in Russia would be more correctly called a system of incitement and blackmail. If you are loyal and if the president is pleased with you, you have the right to steal — but if you are disloyal, you’ll be thrown in prison for theft. It’s no surprise that in recent decades only a few individuals inside Mr. Putin’s system have spoken out publicly against it. Terror is always more persuasive than anything else.

The war had the potential to upend this calculus. The ruling class, which owes its acquisition of wealth to its position in power, has come up against a new reality: Their property in the West has been either seized or subjected to sanctions — no more yachts, no more villas, nowhere to run. For many officials and oligarchs close to the government, this means the collapse of all their life plans, and in principle, it can be presumed that there’s not a single social group in Russia more dissatisfied with the war than Mr. Putin’s kleptocrats.

But there’s a catch: They traded in their rights as political agents for those very yachts and villas. The fundamental intrigue in internal Russian politics is tied up with this fact. Mr. Putin’s military escapade has had a devastating impact on the lives of the establishment elite, on whom he has always relied. But the elites, hamstrung by their dependence on power for their wealth and security, find themselves in no position to say no to Mr. Putin.

That’s not to say their dissatisfaction doesn’t come to light. The finance minister, Anton Siluanov, spoke publicly about the difficulties of carrying out his duties under the new conditions. Aleksei Kudrin, the chairman of the body that audits the state finances and a Kremlin insider, explained at a meeting with Mr. Putin that the war had led Russia’s economy to a dead end. And even the head of the state military-industrial monopoly, Sergei Chemezov, wrote an article about the impossibility of realizing Mr. Putin’s plans. But backed by no political weight, such views hold no interest — or danger — for Mr. Putin.

It’s true that wars often bring out a new elite among officers and generals, who could conceivably threaten the president’s rule. Yet this is not happening in Russia, possibly because Mr. Putin is trying to prevent his generals from gaining too much fame. The names of those in command of Russian troops in Ukraine were kept secret until the end of June, and propaganda about the “heroes” of the war prefers to feature stories about those who have lost their lives and are no longer able to manifest political ambitions. In any case, Mr. Putin has surrounded himself with favored security personnel whose loyalty to him is beyond question.

At the end of the piece, the Times notes that:

Oleg Kashin (@KSHN) is a journalist and the author of “Fardwor, Russia! A Fantastical Tale of Life Under Putin.” This essay was translated by Carol Apollonio from the Russian.

You can read the rest of Kashin’s piece at this link.

Is Russia’s war effort running out of steam?

Great Britain’s spy chief — the head of the storied MI6 — rarely speaks about matters of intelligence in public.

So it was interesting when he spoke up at the Aspen Security Forum about the Ukraine-Russia war and his thinking that the Russians will run out of steam soon:

“They will have to pause in some way,” Richard Moore, the chief of MI6, said in remarks at the Aspen Security Forum — rare public remarks by the serving head of British intelligence. Russian forces had likely lost around 15,000 troops, he said, calling the number a “conservative estimate.” That’s roughly the number of casualties Russia’s military suffered over the course of 10 years during its war in Afghanistan, Moore noted.

A pause by Russian forces would “give the Ukrainians the opportunity to strike back,” Moore said Thursday. He said that the morale of Ukrainian forces remains high and the military is receiving powerful weapons from the West. Moore urged the flow of weapons to continue so that Ukraine could either prevail in the war or be in a stronger position to negotiate with Russia.

He also praised the level of Western solidarity since the Russian invasion. “NATO has been proved extraordinarily united in the face of this,” said Moore, noting that Sweden had abandoned 200 years of military nonalignment to seek membership of the alliance, along with Finland.

Moore described Russia’s invasion as an “epic fail” that hadn’t accounted for the stiff resistance the invading forces would face. “They clearly completely misunderstood Ukrainian nationalism. They completely underrated the degree of resistance the Russian military would face.”

Russian officials also didn’t accurately convey to President Vladimir Putin the challenges of the invasion and the costs to Russia, Moore said. In Putin’s government “it doesn’t pay to speak truth to power.”

In the lead-up to the invasion and in the months that have followed, there has been widespread speculation that Putin is sick, possibly with cancer, and he has been portrayed as more eccentric and irrational. However, Moore dismissed rumors that the Russian president is ill, saying “there is no evidence that Putin is suffering from serious ill health.”

His comments echoed CIA Director William J. Burns, who quipped earlier this week that “as far as we can tell, he’s entirely too healthy.”

I forget who it was that said that “intelligence” is often just guessing informed by somewhat more information than the average person reading the news has. Still, it would be nice if it were true.

You can read the rest of the Washington Post article (by Shane Harris and Julian Duplain) at this link.

Shinzo Abe assassination moves Japan closer to re-arming itself

The killing of the country’s former prime minister will likely lead the island nation closer to Abe’s dream of a newly militarized Japan:

The attack by a lone assassin, using what was clearly a hand-made weapon, was an attack on “the very foundation of democracy,” Kishida said. Abe was campaigning to increase turnout for his Liberal Democratic Party when he was killed. The election, only for Japan’s upper house, was scheduled for Sunday. Observers believe it was to be a key test of Kishida’s support in the party and ability to lead Japan.

A top expert on Japanese politics and national security, Rikki Larsen, said Abe’s death is likely to greatly boost support for the LDP.

“They will romp home even in seats they were going to give up on,” said Larsen, an honorary professor at the Australian National University.

And Abe’s death may lead to something he supported for years: amending the pacifist clauses in the Japanese constitution. The LDP and other parties have supported changing some of the constitution, though exactly what changes they might agree to remains unclear. The coalition of parties likely to support the change needs 82 votes. “It might give them impetus to change the constitution,” Larsen said.

So that makes Germany and Japan both on the road to historic increases in military spending in two countries whose militaries were severely curtailed after World War II. No harm could come of that, eh?

The world is going backward in so many ways.

Retired U.S. military leader says admitting Sweden, Finland into NATO offers few benefits, risks much more

Lt. Col. Daniel L. Davis (Ret.) is an odd duck.

On the one hand, he’s an accomplished combat veteran who’s made a name for himself pointing out the lies that successions of U.S. presidents have told the world about Afghanistan, Syria and much else the White House and Congress have fed the American people about our national defense.

On the other hand, he’s enough of a regular on Fox News that he has his own web page there.

But he also writes for The Guardian and other more progressive outlets.

So, I’ve decided that it’s likely that he’s a regular on Fox News because of that network’s hard-on for anything military, plus the fact that, right now anyway, Davis’ interests and opinions just happen to be allied against what Biden is doing in Ukraine.

Such as what he writes in this piece criticizing what looks like the eventual entrance of Sweden and Finland into NATO. Davis definitely thinks that Russia is going to eventually get most or all of what it wants in Ukraine despite members of NATO shoveling billions of dollars at the conflict.

There are a lot of competing multi-national interests right now over the Russia-Ukraine conflict and just as many competing “experts” making totally different predictions about the outcome of that war. And let’s not ever forget that in this war, just as with any other, among the most powerful interests are the corporations making billions of dollars off the the planes, bombs and other military hardware.

Anyway, Daniels writes in his piece from today for NBC News:

When NATO alliance members meet in Madrid this week, one of the featured agenda items is Finland and Sweden’s request to officially join the alliance. The NATO leadership has welcomed their ascension, with Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg saying the two countries’ “membership in NATO would increase our shared security.” Though member state Turkey originally signaled it objected to the idea, it lifted its opposition after a breakthrough on Tuesday that clears the way for the Nordic states.

While enlarging NATO might seem like a wise thing to do in light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, it doesn’t take much sober analysis to conclude that adding yet more NATO members is likely to have the opposite effect of what the secretary general hopes.

Instead of lowering the chances of war, the membership of Finland and Sweden would increase the risk of future conflict for the entire alliance; adding two more triggers for Article 5 — the provision in the NATO charter that stipulates that an attack on one is an attack on all — would add to the risk of war for the entire alliance. That would be an unwise course in any case, but it’s particularly ill-advised given that it would make Finland and Sweden more vulnerable, as well.

Though the U.S. has also recently shown itself eager to expand the alliance to these countries, the accession of Sweden and, especially, Finland could hardly be said to further the American national interest. Finland shares a roughly 800-mile border with Russia that NATO would be committed to defend, and this defense — or the stationing of NATO military infrastructure in Finland — would risk antagonizing Russia. 

You can read the rest of it here.

Many military and political strategists have criticized NATO’s relentless expansion into countries next to, or near, Russia’s borders, saying it needlessly antagonizes Putin. They also point out that if, say, Canada or Mexico ever made moves to enter Moscow’s orbit, the U.S. would never tolerate it, and to expect Putin and the Russians to do so ignores history and political reality.

The drone that is keeping the Russians at bay in Ukraine

The brainchild of an MIT-educated Turkish engineer, the drone is changing the face of warfare in ways that only happen every couple of generations

The New Yorker has a fascinating article in its current edition about the Bayraktar TB2, a drone that is helping to balance the scales in Russia’s war with Ukraine:

A video posted toward the end of February on the Facebook page of Valerii Zaluzhnyi, the commander-in-chief of Ukraine’s armed forces, showed grainy aerial footage of a Russian military convoy approaching the city of Kherson. Russia had invaded Ukraine several days earlier, and Kherson, a shipbuilding hub at the mouth of the Dnieper River, was an important strategic site. At the center of the screen, a targeting system locked onto a vehicle in the middle of the convoy; seconds later, the vehicle exploded, and a tower of burning fuel rose into the sky. “Behold the work of our life-giving Bayraktar!” Zaluzhnyi’s translated caption read. “Welcome to Hell!”

Because it is a fraction of the cost of Israeli and American payload-carrying drones, it’s proving to be popular:

In April, 2016, the TB2 scored its first confirmed kill. Since then, it has been sold to at least thirteen countries, bringing the tactic of the precision air strike to the developing world and reversing the course of several wars. In 2020, in the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, Azerbaijan’s dictatorial leader, Ilham Aliyev, used the TB2 to target vehicles and troops, then displayed footage of the strikes on digital billboards in the capital city of Baku.

The TB2 has now carried out more than eight hundred strikes, in conflicts from North Africa to the Caucasus. The bombs it carries can adjust their trajectories in midair, and are so accurate that they can be delivered into an infantry trench. Military analysts had previously assumed that slow, low-flying drones would be of little use in conventional combat, but the TB2 can take out the anti-aircraft systems that are designed to destroy it. “This enabled a fairly significant operational revolution in how wars are being fought right now,” Rich Outzen, a former State Department specialist on Turkey, told me. “This probably happens once every thirty or forty years.”

From an engineering standpoint this is all very interesting. From the standpoint of guerilla warfare and terrorism, I’m thinking it’s only a matter of time until the technology will advance to the point that civilians around the world will be targeted in non-combat ways we’ve not yet imagined. I’ve been reading predictions along those lines for years. It’s scary how close we’ve come to reality.

If I were Armenian? Well….

The Bayraktar TB2 on a runway. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)