Putin’s revolt bolsters US defense hawks’ calls

The short-lived mutiny of Wagner’s mercenary forces against Russian President Vladimir Putin has bolstered the cause of defense hawks demanding more money for Ukraine.

Divisions among House Republicans over support for Ukraine have posed real challenges for hawkish lawmakers hoping to deliver more aid to Kyiv.

GOP critics say the funding is a drain on US resources and that the recently passed debt ceiling agreement imposed a hard cap on defense spending.

Now the revolt led by Wagner leader Yevgeny Prigozhin has raised significant questions about Putin’s strength – doubts the Russian leader tried to dispel with on-camera remarks on Monday night.

Those who argue for further strengthening Ukraine can argue that Western support really makes a difference in the bitter war, and defense experts and GOP aides predict it will be harder for deficit-conscious Republicans. to end pressure for additional spending in Ukraine.

“It showed a real weakness in the political – not just military – leadership of the Russian Federation, and this is an opportunity for us and the Ukrainians. Let’s end this war. Let’s catch the Russians while they are politically and militarily disorganized and stop dragging things out,” said Evelyn Farkas, executive director of the McCain Institute and former deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia and Ukraine in the Obama administration.

Farkas said Putin’s decision to negotiate with Prigozhin to avoid a possible civil war undermines the arguments of some policymakers who oppose military aid for fear of an escalation of conflict in Ukraine.

“One of the arguments against providing too much equipment has been – at least I would say maybe more on the left than on the right – the fear that Putin will somehow step up. We’ve seen he’s a rational player,” she added. “I would say we’ve seen evidence that he might actually back down if he faces defeat in Ukraine. In the end, what matters more to him than the expansion of the empire is its political survival.

The mutiny, which had been described as a coup attempt against Putin, changes the narrative in Washington of the war, which in recent weeks had focused on the slow pace and costly gains of the long-awaited counteroffensive by Ukraine.

The sudden, albeit temporary, defection of Russia’s vanguard private military force now raises the possibility that Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine has significantly undermined his grip on power.

A Senate Republican aide says the Biden administration has an opportunity to pressure Congress for more money for the war in Ukraine, despite President Biden reaching a deal with McCarthy just a month ago to set a ceiling on defense spending.

“I would be very curious if the administration does anything unusual in the next few weeks,” the aide said, adding that defense hawks would like the administration to prepare a request for a new one soon. additional spending package for Ukraine and defence. .

“When the members return [from the July 4 recess]I expect the warmongering Republicans and Democrats [will] argue that now is not the time to slow down, in fact we should speed up like we should have done all along,” the aide said. “It’s a unique opportunity.

“When you get opportunities like this, when the enemy has no real cohesion, those are the opportunities to strike,” the aide added, noting that the Ukrainian counteroffensive is expected to drag on until autumn.

Prigozhin’s army of professional mercenaries and prison recruits served on the front lines of the war and won one of Russia’s greatest military victories after a long and drawn-out battle over the city of Bakhmut.

His decision to march on Russia’s southern military headquarters in Rostov-on-Don and then on to Moscow may have created new gaps in the lines.

Prior to the Prigozhin-led mutiny, which for about 24 hours appeared to put Moscow itself under military threat, the Biden administration was not expected to submit its proposal for another emergency supplemental spending package until September.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) has pleaded before the Senate almost daily for the past several weeks for continued support for war and NATO allies.

McConnell noted in the Senate on June 21 that even Japan and Taiwan, non-NATO allies, have “devoted serious resources to defending Ukraine.”

The Senate GOP leader said defeating the Russian invasion of Ukraine would deter a possible Chinese invasion of Taiwan.

Some policy pundits, however, don’t think the divisions exposed by the short-lived mutiny will end the debate over sending tens of billions of dollars in new US funds to help Ukraine kick out the invading Russian military. .

“The mutiny is certainly a sign of weakness for Putin, but it is not enough to calm the growing calls to cut funding for the war. After more than $160 billion being spent with no end in sight, there will be a lot of pressure on Republicans for another big check later this year. It certainly won’t come without a tough fight,” said John Ullyot, a former spokesman for the Trump administration’s National Security Council.

Michael O’Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who specializes in US defense strategy and the use of military force, said “it’s too early” to know the full implications of what the failed mutiny means for the course of the war.

“Later this summer we will also find out whether the Wagner Group has been largely integrated into the Russian military. Equally important, we will learn more about the prospects for the Ukrainian offensive,” he said.

The wild card in the upcoming battle in Congress for more money for Ukraine is President Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).

Proponents of continued U.S. military and economic aid to Ukraine see McCarthy as generally supportive of the cause, but given his narrow five-seat majority, the president was careful to respond to House conservatives concerned about the country’s $32 trillion debt.

A small group of House conservatives have called for an end to U.S. military and economic aid to Ukraine, and they have potential allies in the Senate, like Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who delayed $40 billion in aid last year. parcels for Ukraine.

Earlier this month, McCarthy threw cold water on the idea of ​​passing an emergency supplementary spending package anytime soon, given that Congress just passed a spending cap bill. defense at $886 billion for fiscal year 2024.

McCarthy said in October that there would be no “blank check to Ukraine” if Republicans won a majority in the House in the election the following month.

Speaking at a press conference in Israel on May 1, McCarthy stressed, however, “I vote for Ukraine aid, I support Ukraine aid.”

A second Senate Republican aide said GOP senators believe McCarthy will support additional spending on Ukraine and defense when the time comes, but he currently believes he is focused on managing the politics of his House GOP conference.

“I think McCarthy is trying to survive one day at a time. His comments in Israel were outstanding,” the aide said. “He has a lot of things keeping him busy around the house.”

The aide said the mutiny in the Russian armed forces “shows that staying the course is the right thing to do” and that “there are weaknesses on the other side”.

Danielle Pletka, a distinguished senior fellow in foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, said support for war among Republicans is “a solid expectation for these ideological opponents.”

“The ideological opponents won’t be convinced by this, because they think we shouldn’t do anything anyway,” she said. “If you think we shouldn’t be in Ukraine, the idea that Russia is collapsing and could collapse will not persuade you that we should be in Ukraine. It’s not a logical argument; it is an ideological argument. So the facts are somehow intangible.

She said “all the Russian experts will tell you [the war] was extremely destabilizing for [Putin].”

“Prigozhin said it best. He basically said nothing was going on [in Ukraine], there was no reason to start this war and we are not winning. Those are three pretty fatal charges,” Pletka noted.

A survey released Sunday by the Reagan Presidential Foundation showed that three-quarters of Americans believe it is important to US national security that Ukraine win the war against Russia, including 86% of Democrats and 71% Republicans.

The May 30-June 6 poll of 1,254 American adults showed 59 percent in favor of sending US military aid to Ukraine.

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