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BRYAN DEAN WRIGHT: A Former CIA Officer Breaks Down The Chaos In Russia

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Bryan Dean Wright Former CIA Officer
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It’s been a wild set of events in Russia over the past week – with mutinous Russian forces marching towards Moscow, President Putin addressing the nation about their treason, and then the rebels announcing they would turn back “according to the plan” – as though nothing had happened.

As these whiplashing events evolve, here are 10 key developments that former CIA Officers like me will be watching for in the near and long term:

COMMODITIES: Pocketbooks and economies around the world may be impacted, as Moscow’s main exports of oil, wheat, and fertilizer will get bouncy – and unpredictable – depending on what comes next.

RUSSIAN MILITARY MORALE: Estimates of Russian losses in Ukraine sit at 200,000 total casualties. That’s around 10 times bigger than Moscow has admitted. What is the Russian will to fight after this latest embarrassing episode between the widely-despised Russian Ministry of Defense (MOD) and the mutineers? Russia’s territorial gains depend on the answer.

UKRANIAN MILITARY MORALE: The war has been brutal for Ukrainian forces too, with estimates of 130,000 total casualties. As they watch these mutinous events inside Russia, how does this change their will to fight – and the risks they’re willing to take? Things could escalate quickly.

WAGNER’S FUTURE: Tensions between the Russian mutineers – the Wagner Group – and Russia’s MOD have been brewing for months. The final straw was when Putin declared mercenary forces like Wagner had to sign contracts directly with the MOD. That meant Wagner’s Chief, Yevgeny Prigozhin, was out of a paycheck – and maybe out of lifelines. Though he made a deal to save his skin, what will his 25,000 to 50,000 men think of that deal? Will they sign up for new contracts with the MOD or walk away? The answer will shape Russia’s ability to go on the offensive.

ZELENSKYY’S SURPRISE: For over a year, Pres. Zelenskyy has continued to pursue more aggressive attacks – inside and outside of Russia – even after the US has told him not to. Does Zelenskyy launch escalatory attacks in these mutinous times, knowing that the West will back him regardless – or, as Joe Biden often says, for however long it takes? Major risks here for the West. (RELATED: SHOSHANA BRYEN: China, Russia And Iran Rush To Fill The American Leadership Void)

BIDEN’S SURPRISE: Mr. Biden has long made clear that he wants to remove Putin from office. As he said in March of last year, “For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power.” A month later, his Defense Chief Lloyd Austin said much the same, that the US goal is “to see Russia weakened.” Does this change Biden’s calculus of when or how aggressively he pushes for Putin’s ouster? I’ll be watching this closely.

PUTIN & THE NUCLEAR WEAPONS: Putin’s recent speeches are clearly trying to tighten up support and tamp down fears. But he and his regime toadies know well they’ll be killed if they lose the war in Ukraine – or appear weak and adrift after this mutiny. Might he use nuclear weapons – probably tactical – as a show of force to keep his grip on power in the coming weeks or months? If so, that’s one step closer to WWIII.

CHINA’S REPONSE: Beijing is arguably the single greatest supporter of Moscow – as seen by statements by Pres. Xi over the weekend, plus the purchase of Russian oil and other commodities. Now that Putin’s regime has been credibly challenged, will Pres. Xi maintain that support beyond superficial proclamations? Or, if Putin looks like he’ll be overthrown, how will Xi step in? He certainly won’t accept a Western-friendly government in Moscow or one he can’t control. (RELATED: GORDON CHANG: China Is Setting Up Shop In America’s Backyard. Here’s Why You Should Worry)

AFRICA FALLOUT: Russia has used the Wagner Group as a proxy force throughout Africa and the Middle East, including Mali, Chad, Central African Republic, Sudan, Syria, and Libya. In fact, Wagner has key influence and control over parts of Libya’s oil exports to Europe – with 2,000 troops, warplanes, attack helicopters, and air defense systems. How will this battle of Putin vs. Wagner play out in these far-away countries? The US has troops and equities in many of them.

NEW MERCENARIES ARISE: Wagner might be the most well-known of Russia’s mercenary corps but they’re not alone. The Chechens are notorious – and very loyal to Putin. There are other names to know about too, like Redut and the Don Brigade. How will they respond? That will be a key question for US intel.

Though there’s lots to consider over the coming weeks, two things are clear. First, Putin has been weakened in the eyes of at least the Russian elites and his military. That will affect regime stability to some unpredictable degree – and raise the possibility of irrational behavior.

Second, the longer that the war in Ukraine continues, the more of these surprising and dangerous events are likely to occur. And given the nuclear status of parties involved, that’s certainly not good.

Bryan Dean Wright is a former CIA Operations Officer and host of the daily news podcast, The Wright Report.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller News Foundation.

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