All roads lead to Putin, Kremlin
Photo credit: Illustration by WhoWhatWhy from Grigory Sysoev, RIA Novosti / Wikimedia (CC BY 4.0 DEED) and Sergey Korovkin 84 / Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0 DEED).

Find me a conflict zone, and I’ll find you a Kremlin operative with a blowtorch.

Listen To This Story
Voiced by Amazon Polly

Taken together, the momentous events of the past month — the Russian “scorched earth” tactics in Ukraine, the Azeri offensive in Nagorno-Karabakh, the abominable Hamas terrorist attack in Israel, and, yes, the GOP dysfunction in Congress that has hamstrung the U.S. government at this critical moment — represent “an existential threat to the post-Westphalian world order,” as former British diplomat Arthur Snell characterized the war in Ukraine. 

Signed in 1648, the Peace of Westphalia ended the Thirty Years’ War, the bloodiest conflict in European history (adjusted for inflation), and established the modern idea of state sovereignty. 

Blowing that up is a bad idea.

Right now, it feels like the world is on fire. Surveying the political chaos, the acts of terror, the war crimes, and the boiling over of long-simmering regional conflicts that have befallen the world these past few weeks, we find the distinctive gasoline of a single deranged arsonist: Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin. He wants to burn it all down. Find me a conflict zone, and I’ll find you a Kremlin operative with a blowtorch.

This is not to suggest that the Russian strongman bears exclusive responsibility for the tragic events in Israel and Nagorno-Karabakh, or the disgraceful goings-on in Washington. In each case, there is plenty of blame to go around, of which more shortly. 

Putin is not all-powerful. Indeed, his continued safety depends on the rest of the world hewing to the very Westphalian rules of engagement he seeks to destroy.

But the disastrous decision to invade Ukraine, the savage way the Russian occupiers comport themselves there, and the complete and utter failure of that objective — that is all on Putin. That initial act of self-immolation has made the psychopathic twerp desperate. 

I don’t know if “Putin pays” the likes of Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY), Tommy Tuberville (R-AL), Ron Johnson (R-WI), and Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Jim Jordan (R-OH), and Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA); or if Moscow has enough kompromat on them to pull their marionette strings; or if they are just dumb fascists who sincerely hate democracy and have a hard-on for weirdo strongmen; but, by behaving the way they are, they are actively helping the Kremlin.

More conflict elsewhere in the world diverts attention from his own genocidal brutality. If those conflicts escalate into World War III, well, so much the better for the Kremlin. That, I submit, is Putin’s sick calculus.

Let’s survey the damage:


For three quarters of a century now, the bulwark against the Kremlin’s despotic, imperialist aims has been the United States. This has not always been pretty, but it has been effective. The Pax Americana is (was?) real, and it coincided with the greatest technological, medical, and intellectual breakthroughs in history. As I wrote on these pages three years ago:

We can quibble about the various problems in the world, which are innumerable: climate change, greed, racism, misogyny, the exploitation of labor and the earth by our capitalist system, and so on. We can rightly criticize the government for arming strongmen in Latin America and the Middle East. But none of those problems are going to be redressed if the global peace ends, and the world takes up arms against itself. The Pax Americana is a rare and wonderful thing, a historical blip that is worth preserving at considerable cost.

Vladimir Putin resents the Pax Americana. It makes his country look third-rate by comparison, and his own autocratic regime pathetic. So he’s worked hard to erode the Western alliances that are the foundation of the peace — not by direct force, but by sabotage from within.

In the United States, the sabotage is clear as day. The Republican Party, in its current incarnation, has been subverted by, and is now beholden to the interests of, the Kremlin. 

This sounds like hyperbole. It is not.

Much has already been written, in governmental reports and elsewhere, about Russian tampering in the 2016 election. Whatever the claims of “the Russia hoax” by the braying chaos agents on Elon Musk’s hell-site — another Putin battleground, incidentally — it is now clear that Donald Trump was, as Hillary Clinton succinctly put it in 2016, “Putin’s puppet.” 

If I, then a mere novelist, could understand this enough to write an entire book about it, way back in the spring of 2018, there is no way GOP politicians could not have known. Said Kevin McCarthy, future speaker of the House, to Paul Ryan, then-current speaker of the House, in 2016: “There’s two people I think Putin pays: [Rep. Dana] Rohrabacher [R-CA] and Trump.”

Well, Kevin, why are you kissing Donald’s ring now? What has changed?

As president, Trump allowed Sergei Lavrov and Sergei Kislyak, high-level Kremlin officials, access to the Oval Office. He joked around with them. And he shared with them top secret intelligence from Israel, regarding Iran. For all we know, the piece of intelligence Trump gave the Russians that day was subsequently shared with the Iranians, who gave it to Hamas, which used it in planning its attacks on Israel over the weekend. 

I know that a bunch of cardboard boxes in a sad bathroom looks like no deal big, but Trump’s insouciant handling of classified material has real-world ramifications, none of them good.

The Kremlin contagion has only spread. Republicans in Congress seek to obstruct, to weaken, to starve funds for aid to Ukraine, to leave vacant ambassadorships and key military appointments

I don’t know if “Putin pays” the likes of Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY), Tommy Tuberville (R-AL), Ron Johnson (R-WI), and Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Jim Jordan (R-OH), and Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA); or if Moscow has enough kompromat on them to pull their marionette strings; or if they are just dumb fascists who sincerely hate democracy and have a hard-on for weirdo strongmen; but, by behaving the way they are, they are actively helping the Kremlin. 

What did John McCain say of Rand Paul in 2017? “The Senator from Kentucky is now working for Vladimir Putin.” Six years later, things have only gotten worse.

Curious, is it not, that tensions escalated in Ukraine, and Armenia/Azerbaijan, and Israel/Palestine right after McCarthy was ousted, during an interregnum where the speaker’s chair is vacant, and Congress therefore cannot function? The primary reason the Republicans tried to shut down the government, remember, is that they objected to sending aid to Ukraine. Gee, I wonder who benefits from that?

And yet the Republicans, in lockstep, blamed Biden for the Hamas terrorist attacks, going so far as to disseminate blatant disinformation to make the case — just like their whoremasters at the Kremlin do. They have learned well.


As I covered last week, the semi-autonomous Armenian enclave within Azerbaijan proper had been contested for decades. Diplomatic attempts made by Washington to resolve the situation over the last 30 years were futile. Russia has kept the peace in the region, preventing an Azeri offensive.

In January, Moscow allowed the Azeris to close the access road from Armenia to Nagorno-Karabakh. Supply lines were completely shut down, leading to grave shortages. And then, on September 19, Russia stood down as Azerbaijan simply took over the region. Most of the 120,000 Armenians living in Nagorno-Karabakh fled.

This was a swift victory for the Azeri dictator, Ilham Aliyev, a key Kremlin ally. And it was made possible by Putin.


As reported by Zarina Zabrisky, one of just two foreign journalists in Kherson, the Kremlin has adopted a “scorched earth” strategy in Ukraine. The Russian invaders are targeting schools, churches, hospitals, apartment buildings, hotels — even, last week, a funeral.

Unable to annex the country as he wanted, Putin now wants to wipe Ukraine off the map completely. The only thing preventing this outcome is the Ukrainian armed forces, which are dependent on Western aid. If we keep supplying weapons, Kyiv will eventually win this war. Thus, Putin is doing everything in his power to discourage Western aid — up to and including subverting an entire US political party, as discussed.

Please Donate to WhoWhatWhy 


Hamas, the terrorist organization that runs Gaza, infiltrated Israel on the festive Jewish holy day of Simchat Torah, penetrating the defenses, rampaging through the country, kidnapping those Israeli civilians it did not kill on sight. The terrorists targeted a music festival, massacring the concert-goers. There are hostages, including children, hidden away in the tunnels below Gaza. There are beheadings. There is rape.

This was the worst attack on Israel since the Yom Kippur War, half a century ago. The atrocities committed by Hamas are gruesome, sickening, morally reprehensible, and, whatever one’s feelings about Israel’s policy towards the Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip, impossible to justify on moral grounds (although plenty of Death-to-America types are trying).

There is much to say here about the inept leadership of Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister; the failure of the vaunted Israeli intelligence services to forecast the attacks; and the comments from Yoav Gallant, the Israeli defense minister (“I have ordered a complete siege on the Gaza Strip. There will be no electricity, no food, no fuel—everything is closed. We are fighting human animals and we act accordingly.”). 

All of that must wait, as must our questions about the attack itself: What does Hamas think this will achieve? How exactly does this help advance the cause of Palestinian statehood? Have these hateful zealots considered how this erodes Western sympathy to their cause

Why do this now?

The Wall Street Journal reported that Iran — whose hardline leadership cheered on the attacks — helped plan and equip the terrorists. Iran, of course, is an ally of Russia; Tehran was Putin’s first state visit after the Ukraine invasion started.

Hamas leadership, too, held several meetings with Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, earlier this year; Lavrov is the same Kremlin official who met with Trump in the Oval Office in 2017. Al-Monitor reported back in March:

Russian-Hamas relations have steadily grown. Russia has sought to increase its role in the Palestinian reconciliation dossier, with some Palestinians hoping it will break the US monopoly over the file that has been stalled for more than a decade.

Hamas officials have made several visits to the Russian capital, most recently in September of last year.

Moscow’s public support for Hamas also comes as its relations with Israel soured following its invasion of Ukraine last year. Israel has maintained a cautious stance in the war, but Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen’s February visit to Kyiv marked a small shift as Israel grows more concerned about Moscow-Tehran military cooperation and the use of Iranian drones in Ukraine.

Hamas, experts say, does not have the weaponry to launch this sort of attack independently. 

It could be that they chose to act on their own, as both Hamas and Iran claim. It could be that Iran gave the green light, as the WSJ report suggests (and the US government denies). 

It could also be that Putin gave the go-ahead, because Russia is the primary beneficiary of escalating conflicts elsewhere in the world. 

We don’t know. What we do know is that this week, in the wake of the attacks, Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian National Authority leader, plans to travel to Moscow to meet with the Russian strongman.

As Nancy Pelosi said, all roads lead to Putin. Would the removal from power of Vladimir Vladimirovich, author of so much global woe, bring peace on earth?

There’s only one way to find out.

Reprinted, with permission, from Prevail, Greg Olear’s substack.

Comments are closed.