Regime Change Emerging as a Credible Course Against Putin in Russia
Meaning, President Biden had it right before his staff corrected him.
Russian propagandists loudly claim that America is trying to undermine the Kremlin and overthrow President Putin. Yet the idea of regime change — espoused by American leaders since the days of Hitler and continued through the Cold War and to the “end of history” era — has long-since fallen out of fashion in Washington.
Enlightened governments, goes the reasoning, await the arc of history to do its thing, as it will eventually bend toward justice. We no longer strive to militarily or otherwise overthrow hostile rulers just for the sake of replacing them with enlightened, pro-American, democratically elected governments.
Sure, every once in a while some old-timer irresponsibly blurts out such out of fashion notions, saying things like “For god’s sake, this man cannot remain in power.” That is what one such geezer, President Biden, said of Mr. Putin back in March. In a matter of minutes his own staff was walking back his remarks.
What the president meant to say, came the clarification from unnamed White House aides in a matter of minutes, is that Mr. Putin “cannot be allowed to exercise power over his neighbors or the region. He was not discussing Putin’s power in Russia or regime change.”
Just imagine that idea being advocated by war-mongering Republicans, such as Senator Graham, who said at the beginning of the war that “the only way the crisis in Europe ends is for somebody in Russia to take this guy out.”
“We have to be very careful about talking about war with Russia, regime change, and these other things because then he will absolutely double down further,” a stalwart Washington Russia hand, Fiona Hill, shot back at Mr. Graham on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
Well, that was back in March. Since then — Washington’s protestations aside — Mr. Putin has indeed doubled, tripled, and quadrupled down on his Ukraine war.
And no matter how loudly we deny it, the Kremlin is convinced America strives to overthrow him.
Moscow says “America is trying to overthrow Russia’s government even though Biden is doing no such thing,” a former national security adviser, Ambassador John Bolton, writes today. “Just to remind, the Kremlin has been doing this to us for many decades. Since we are already accused of subverting the Kremlin, why not return the favor?”
Mr. Bolton, a long-time advocate of regime change, suggests America’s objective must be “having Russia aligned with the West.” Assisting opposition forces with communication devices, funds, and news sources to counter the Kremlin’s propaganda could help bring about the desired change, he argues.
An incarcerated pro-democracy, anti-Putin leader, Alexei Navalny is, as the Sun reported earlier today, gaining followers on social media, and even after numerous Kremlin attempts at killing him his voice still tolls loud and clear across Russia. Mr. Navalny is not the only Putin critic out there.
A cadre of military types, master-spies, Wagner group mercenaries, and other uber-hawks are dissatisfied with the war. Rather than ending it, however, they advocate escalation with Kyiv: carpet bombing, additional war crimes, and the unleashing of Russia’s nuclear arsenal.
Modern day Kremlinologists say that waiting in the wings and hoping to soon replace Mr. Putin are the likes of his national security adviser and former FSB chief, Nikolai Patrushev, age 71; a former president, Dmitry Medvedev; Wagner’s chief, Yevgeny Prigozhin; and younger men like the deputy chief of staff, Sergei Kiriyenko.
One man who was once seen as a likely heir but now is increasingly disfavored by Russia watchers is Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. His failure in conducting the war has made him unpopular in Mr. Putin’s inner circle. His star-dimming might signal to others that digging ever-deeper in Ukraine is bound to hurt Russia.
The deeper Russia gets into a losing war, the more America needs to overcome our aversion to regime change. Even the emergence of an avowed hawk in the aftermath of Mr. Putin’s demise could help the West win the most consequential war Europe has seen since the end of WWII.
It’s a risky strategy, but a new leader would initially be forced to consolidate powers at home. Mr. Putin’s goal of extending the war until America and Europe tire out would then be disrupted, and Kyiv could more easily recapture occupied Russian territory to end the war in a victory.
We could, perhaps, tolerate a period of transition in which a lower level Kremlin hand takes the reins, but the logical goal for the long run would be to help Russians get rid of Mr. Putin and his entire camarilla. Do it for the sake of the people of Russia, for Europe, and for the rest of the world, including our own country.
Reasonably accused by a consummate Washingtonian, the former defense secretary Robert Gates, of being “wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades,” Mr. Biden’s initial instinct was right this time. Mr. Putin cannot remain in power. There was no reason for Mr. Biden to walk it back.