In a big-picture look at Ukraine's battlefields, we have passed the point where serious observers are expecting any new major military actions from Russia. Russia's position is now primarily defensive, looking to hold what areas it has taken but with no plausible military options for expanding that territory. Time is the enemy of both sides. Ukraine is compelled to make advances to justify large-scale munitions shipments from Europe and America that cannot necessarily last forever. The Russian army started out as a wreck and now is the sloppy remnants of a wreck.
The advantage is with Ukraine. Russia has no chance of replenishing artillery at the rate it's being destroyed, continues to suffer munitions shortages, has somehow managed to build a standing army that still does not know how to use defensive lines, and is reeling from what can only be described as a "practice coup" by a private army.
The worst news Russia has faced in their efforts to outlast Ukrainian counterattacks until Ukraine’s backers grow weary and demand Ukraine forfeit the lands, however, has been the new indictment of former United States President Donald Trump.
If you think that sounds ridiculous, you're absolutely right. There's no part of that sentence that's not completely asinine, and yet here we are.
Russian state-affiliated media is reeling with the news that Trump has been indicted yet again, and this time for an attempted coup, which has been a topic wedged in the minds of the Russian ruling class for approximately their entire lives and then some. The Daily Beast's Julia Davis brings us the latest translated grousings from state propagandist Vladimir Solovyov.
"I’ve never seen or heard of anything like it in my entire life! In America, they are currently attempting to destroy Trump—and to do it unbelievably fast! This sort of a thing never happened in American history!," whined Solovyov, copying the rhetoric of more than a few of the most shameless Republicans in this country. Because this is a Russian television show, it quickly descended into talk of nuclear war, an American civil war, and a "big European War." Solovyov guest Dmitry Evstafiev brought out the propaganda guns for that one:
“Americans always thought they could bypass the big war, but the more they keep doing this internally within their own country ... and if things related to Trump will continue the way they’re going, we can surmise that their regime went from being authoritarian to being totalitarian and I can tell you that they will not be able to escape a big European war.”
Special points to Evstafiev for understanding the American psyche with perfect, uh, precision:
“They were certain that no one would follow Trump. They thought that Trump would be a disco dancer and he would dance disco in front of the rednecks,” [Evstafiev] fumed. “Meanwhile, they [the Democrats] would win. Now they no longer have this certainty. This means that serious powers with big money have committed to Trump! To them, Trump is a lesser evil than all the rest. I understand these big money people! To have a moron as their president is better than nuclear war.”
But it was Evstafiev's reference to "liberal, pro-Western groups" inside Russia that provided context for just why a seditionist American former president's legal troubles were the topic of the evening. Those groups "say something should be done, there should be a coup and then [America will] offer us something. [...] Do you really think that people who don't abide by their own written and unwritten rules will honor them towards you? Have you totally lost your minds?"
The Russian government's troubles have expanded beyond the inability of its military to coordinate offensive actions, supply routes, or even staying in their own defensive lines. The Wagner "practice coup" rattled the Putin camp with solid evidence of just how little resistance an attempted decapitation of Moscow's elites would be met with if the coup's backers were promising an end to the Ukraine occupation and an end to Russia's global isolation.
It's mildly intriguing that Evstafiev would admit or invent the existence of such groups inside Russia, purely from a propaganda standpoint. In general, authoritarian regimes are loath to acknowledge the existence of pro-coup "groups" because it suggests to the ordinary public that their own possible "pro-coup" sentiments may not be as isolated as they imagine. After Wagner's success in at least feinting towards Moscow, however, that cat may be out of the bag.
It is a truthful absurdity: Trump's new indictment is likely to shape the battlefields of Ukraine in the coming months. Russia is currently engaged in the aforementioned desperate attempt to hold existing gains until Ukraine can be forced to negotiate a disadvantageous peace. The potential return of Trump to the White House is among the only scenarios that might bring about that outcome. Trump has condemned military aid to Ukraine and vowed to end it. Europe could not by itself make up the slack. Trump has already proven a willingness to both sabotage Ukrainian military efforts and deflate sanctions against Russia—he is, from the Putin perspective, a sure bet.
The mere possibility of a Trump election win in 2024 creates a strategic reason for Russia to attempt to maintain its current occupation even with losses unsustainable in the long term, and even as an anti-Putin coup inside Russia moves from the realm of paranoid to the plausible. It sets a certain (or near-certain) date for the rapid deterioration of Ukraine's capabilities. January 2025 becomes Russia's military marker.
A certain Trump loss, however—dropping out of the race, a collapse in the polls, a chunk of cheeseburger going down the wrong pipe—changes the equation for the worse. No Republican replacement can be counted on to do as much, or as fast; the further degradation of the Russian army and mounting political unrest loom larger.
It's not just that the possibility of a Trump return may boost Russian military advantages in the future. It's shaping the battlefield now in Russian equations of how long their ragged army of conscripts must hold out, and with what supplies, before Ukraine's own supplies dwindle. So yes, Trump's legal troubles are very much in the mind of the pundits tasked with justifying the war's continuation. They're a bit sweaty on the subject.
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