Perhaps everyone, including people publishing and reading this article, perhaps people all over the world, had grown a little too cynical, which would seem impossible. Maybe we didn’t realize that the world could come together and unite behind brave and endangered people, who, through no fault of their own, have had their lives upended, perhaps taken, and their nation threatened, perhaps to be taken.
Putin finds himself supported only by his inner circle, which includes the MAGA party in the United States, but that’s another column.
Perhaps Putin relied upon the world’s cynicism and unwillingness to care about others while planning this mission. Maybe he believed people wouldn’t like it, but wouldn’t find themselves emotionally invested. Perhaps Putin thought the war would be over so quickly it wouldn’t matter.
On all fronts, he was wrong, at least so far, but being wrong right up front is the worst time to miscalculate. And, perhaps he’s making his biggest operational mistake yet, by sending in a team of 400 elite mercenaries to hunt down and kill the man who has become an international hero, someone people care about, someone who has become the face of the war, Ukrainian President Zelensky, often pictured in the field with his troops, ready to fight, just like all Ukrainians.
According to The Sunday Times’ report released early this morning:
More than 400 Russian mercenaries are operating in Kyiv with orders from the Kremlin to assassinate President Zelensky and his government and prepare the ground for Moscow to take control, The Times has learnt.
The Wagner Group, a private militia run by one of President Putin’s closest allies and operating as an arm-length branch of the state, flew in mercenaries from Africa five weeks ago on a mission to decapitate Zelensky’s government in return for a handsome financial bonus.
Information about their mission reached the Ukrainian government on Saturday morning and hours later Kyiv declared a 36-hour “hard” curfew to sweep the city for Russian saboteurs, warning civilians that they would be seen as Kremlin agents and risked being “liquidated” if they stepped outside.
It is hard to hunt down and find anyone when all citizens are supposed to be indoors, with only the military sweeping the city. On the other hand, one thing about hiring hardened killers away from battles occurring between warlords in Central Africa, they’ve learned that it’s critical to be patient.
The more important question is whether this move shows just how unstable Putin has become and the threat he represents. We know he put his nuclear systems on armed alert over the weekend, and it’s a horrifically dangerous move. In the same sense, the world has come to love the leader who isn’t in a suit in Switzerland broadcasting encouraging messages and moving forces around. As said, he is in the field, and it is tough to tell whether that makes it easier or harder to find him.
One gets the sense that Putin has again misread the situation and that the worst thing that can happen – from his perspective – is for the mission to succeed. Right now, the West doesn’t have the stomach to intervene in the war directly. But if Putin continues the reckless aggression in a world he may have already misread, he could create a tipping point, whereupon then, the citizens of the world practically beg their leaders to punish Putin and his Russian troops, physically. Air support, naval blockades, there are a lot of tools available to the West.
Additionally, personalizing war, putting a bounty upon the leader will certainly harden Ukraine’s resolve that much more. Personalization goes both ways, too. The sanctions imposed upon Russia are so crippling that it is entirely possible that Putin is surrounded by wealthy oligarchs, unhappy with his decision. These oligarchs have their own ability to hire mercenaries. This announcement will shock and anger people enough. Should he succeed, Putin may be putting his own life on the line, even within Russia itself.
One thing we know. Putin cannot start a land grab war, a war of choice, and assassinate the nation’s popular, democratically elected leader, then sue for peace if it doesn’t go well. In a sense, Putin’s life rides upon the outcome of this war, too – and it’s difficult to see any scenario where he is allowed to participate in world affairs ever again unless he calls this off.
Meanwhile, America’s MAGAs are inextricably tied to Putin. It is possible that they may finally realize that they were wrong, and their movement’s strength will cripple along with Putin’s.
In the fog of war, it is hard to see far ahead. All we know is that, to this point, Putin has underestimated his opponent, the world’s reaction, and the danger to Russia and himself personally, all while overestimating his strength. The civilized world hopes that pattern continues in the weeks and months ahead.
Jason Miciak is a political writer, features writer, author, and attorney. He is originally from Canada but grew up in the Pacific Northwest as a dual Canadian-American citizen, which he grows increasingly thankful for every day. He now enjoys life as a single dad, writing from the beaches of the Gulf Coast, getting advice from his beloved daughter and teammate. He is very much the dreamy mystic that cannot add and loves dogs more than most people. He also likes studying cooking, theoretical physics, cosmology, and quantum mechanics. He likes pizza.
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