For those who have studied the inner workings of authoritarian regimes know well that the very nature of a dictatorship cannot win big wars because of shifting political and military talent purposefully made to create nonthreatening alternatives to the dictator. Vladimir Putin cannot afford a Nikita Khrushchev, who rose to prominence during World War II, to rise during his lifetime, and so the whole act of conducting a war becomes an act of musical chairs, where no one shines long enough or bright enough to become a threat to his rule.
We are watching this scenario unfolds today in the occupied territories of Ukraine, where not only bad commanders are punished, but also good commanders are rotated to insure they don’t amass enough popularity among those they command to threaten Vladimir Putin.
The results could be more disastrous to Putin if a commander wins too many battles than to Putin losing battles and blaming it on the bad commanders he keeps firing.
All the credits a bright military field general might earn in winning battles in Ukraine are credits Putin will not own.
THE INSTITUTE FOR THE STUDY OF WAR
One of the most prominent publications to follow the Russian invasion of Ukraine is the Institute for the Study of War (ISW), whose blogs and newsletters have commanded the respect of many following the war.
In its latest assessment dated April 30, 2023, ISW writes:
All the credits a bright military field general might earn in winning battles in Ukraine are credits Putin will not own. So, the war grinds on as tens of thousands of Russian die, but Putin has shielded himself from any criticism while he gets credit for any battles won because there is no central figure to land that credit except him.
The very nature of a dictatorship cannot win big wars. That much Putin knew.
Could it be that Vladimir Putin is reluctant to let another Russian powerful man outshine him to become a national hero?
IS PRIGOZHIN THE EXCEPTION?
If so, does Yegenev Prigozhin, head of the Wagner Group mercenaries fighting in Ukraine, present an exception since the Wagner fighters are shining on the front lines, even if dying by the thousands for Mother Russia? After all, his name is often in the western press, which would lead someone to believe he has become the second most important man after Vladimir Putin.
The truth, though, lies in the details. If Prigozhin is so important to winning the war in Ukraine for Putin, why are his fighters not receiving the ammunition he keeps appealing for publicly? Why is the Russian Defense Department not assisting the Wagner fighters in winning the war?
Could it be that Vladimir Putin is reluctant to let another Russian powerful man outshine him to become a national hero? You can be sure that Putin, no matter how much control he exerts internally, is afraid of Prigozhin now that the west is promoting his heroics in its media.
Historically speaking, dictators will not hesitate to physically terminate any threat to their rule, and it won’t be long after the war in Ukraine for Putin to poison Prigozhin. It’s a fait accompli.
The very nature of a dictatorship cannot win big wars because the dictator’s survival depends on eliminating any threats to his rule. This, partially, explains why the West is winning, and why Putin keeps rotating both the incompetent and the competent on the battlefields in Ukraine.