In a recent video chat among friends, a Russian immigrant to the U.S., asked about the Ukraine situation, said “I am not following it closely, but I assume that Putin has a reason for doing what he’s doing. Either it will benefit the country or it will benefit him.”
I chimed in, “How could it possibly benefit Putin? Doesn’t he already have everything that he might want?”
She responded, “He may be worried about what would happen to him if he loses power. Maybe he thinks that this Ukraine action will help him stay in power and he needs to do that.”
Her perspective is at odds with much of the American and recent Western European experience. Lyndon Johnson and George W. Bush were free to go home to their respective Texas ranches after starting and/or escalating disastrous wars, for example. But the quiet comfortable retirement of former leaders is unusual when compared to what happens in most countries and what has happened through most of human history. And, even in the U.S., the new rulers may try to make life unpleasant for former rulers. Consider what the Democrats are doing to Donald Trump right now. New York State Democrats have been seeking to put him in prison for alleged financial misstatements (“2 Prosecutors Leading N.Y. Trump Inquiry Resign, Clouding Case’s Future” (NYT) for the latest on this one). Democrats in the U.S. Congress are also seeking criminal prosecution (“The Jan. 6 Committee’s Consideration of a Criminal Referral, Explained” (NYT); “The Obscure Charge Jan. 6 Investigators Are Looking at for Trump” (Daily Beast)). Democrats were, in fact, already seeking to imprison Donald Trump at least as early as 2018. “The Presidency or Prison” (NYT):
Donald Trump — or, as he’s known to federal prosecutors, Individual-1 — might well be a criminal. That’s no longer just my opinion, or that of Democratic activists. It is the finding of Trump’s own Justice Department.
On Friday, federal prosecutors from the Southern District of New York filed a sentencing memorandum for Michael Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer, who is definitely a criminal. The prosecutors argued that, in arranging payoffs to two women who said they’d had affairs with Trump, Cohen broke campaign finance laws, and in the process “deceived the voting public by hiding alleged facts that he believed would have had a substantial effect on the election.”
Representative Eric Swalwell, a California Democrat and former prosecutor, told me, “This president has potential prison exposure.”
Ordinarily, you know that a democracy is failing when electoral losers are threatened with prison. But Trump’s lawlessness is so blatant that impunity — say, a pardon, or a politically motivated decision not to prosecute — would also be deeply corrosive, unless it was offered in return for his resignation.
So the original idea was to put Trump in prison for paying people who identified as “women” to do what people who identify as “women” have been doing for a long time. Then January 6 came along and the idea shifted to putting Trump in prison for “obstructing an official congressional proceeding”.
If Putin observes that Donald Trump is continuously at risk of a prison sentence, depending on the whims of Democrats working as prosecutors and serving on juries, wouldn’t he reasonably be concerned about his own post-leadership fate? The Russian legal system doesn’t offer superior protection against politically motivated prosecution compared to the U.S. system, does it?
Separately, Apple News sets up a visual comparison between Vladimir Putin and Joe Biden. One leader is using armored vehicles and soldiers holding rifles. The other leader has “sanctions”: