Over the weekend, Donald Trump resuscitated the same anti-Ukraine crusade and tactic that got him impeached the first time around: holding Ukraine aid hostage unless the Biden family is “investigated.” No one will ever accuse him of learning from his mistakes.
Yet his renewed and vocal ire against Ukraine is having a real effect on the MAGA view of the conflict, according to Civiqs polling.
Civiqs doesn’t publicly track attitudes about the Ukraine war, but it has tracked one relevant question for the past six years: ”Do you see Russia as more of a potential ally, or a foe of America?”
Among the general public, Russia’s ratings are in the gutter—10% consider it an ally, while 76% are correct that it is a foe. It’s not a subjective matter. Russian leadership regularly threatens to launch nuclear weapons against the United States and its allies. It’s hard to “Make America Great” if America (and the rest of the world) is a nuclear wasteland. This shouldn’t be controversial.
Yet that 10% is a very special decile. It represents MAGA country, and they are increasingly warming up to Russia’s fascist dictator Vladimir Putin, as Trump and MAGA leaders like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene lead the charge.
Check out the chart among Republicans:
What’s initially interesting is that despite Trump’s railing about the “Russian hoax,” Republican attitudes toward Russia worsened throughout Trump’s first impeachment proceedings, the Mueller investigation into Russian interference in the 2020 elections, and ultimately, Russia’s unprovoked and illegal invasion of Ukraine.
Yet attitudes about Russia among Republicans have improved from their nadir in November 2022, going from 11% ally, 71% foe, to 15-64 today, an 11-point net swing. Russia’s brutality and nuclear rhetoric have only worsened since, so the shift is all from domestic politics.
Indeed, that November 2022 nadir is notable, as that is when Republicans took the House, emboldening Greene to make promises at a Trump rally that, “Under Republicans, not another penny will go to Ukraine. Our country comes first."
She and Rep. Matt Gaetz unsuccessfully tried to defund Ukraine aid this past month. Greene’s effort got 89 Republican votes, with 130 opposed. Gaetz’s push got 70 votes, with 149 opposed. It’s not a majority opinion in the Republican Party, but Trump is moving his base’s opinion on the matter.
What’s interesting is which Republicans are changing their minds.
Among Republicans older than 65, the spread is 8% ally, 78% foe. These are old Cold War survivors who lived under the threat of Soviet annihilation. But the younger the Republican, the more likely they support Putin. Among Republicans age 18-34, the spread is 20-52.
This is the crowd that worships incels like Nick Fuentes, megalomaniacs like pro-Russia Elon Musk, and weirdos like Jackson Hinkle.
If you don’t know who Jackson Hinkle is, this is a taste:
Can you think of anything more satanic than celebrating Christmas on Dec. 25? This is a great thread if you want to hate-read more about Hinkle. It includes stories about his pathetic romantic life and his parents smacking him down for his lies.
Those younger conservatives lack the personal memory of Russia’s long history of aggression and fascism, and they are part of a social media algorithmic culture that rewards contrarianism and outrage-harvesting. It really is telling that the geriatric Republican caucus in the Senate has little patience for Russia, while the youngest Republican House members drive divisions in the House.
These numbers among Republicans will likely keep swinging toward Putin as Trump centers much of his campaign on this message. He is under legal assault for breathtaking corruption, he feels an existential need to “both sides” that level of corruption, and he still weirdly thinks that centering Ukraine in that narrative gets him there. And let’s face it, Trump loves Putin. He wants to be Putin. And any enemy of Putin is no friend of Trump.
“Make America Great,” indeed.
As of now, the pro-Putin MAGA crowd is far from garnering the necessary support to block Russian aid. That doesn’t mean that they won’t be making this a defining rallying cry for both the Republican primary (former vice president Mike Pence was booed on a campaign stage for defending Ukraine aid), and the 2024 general election.
I’ve mostly ignored Russia’s big push around Kreminna and Svatove up in northeastern Ukraine, on the Luhansk-Kharkiv border. At one point, Ukraine claimed that 100,000 Russian troops had gathered to try and retake the strategic logistical hub city of Kupyansk, which they lost in last year’s fall counteroffensive.
The whole notion was as stupid as fears that Belarus would invade Ukraine, or that Russia would launch an amphibious assault on the Black Sea port city of Odesa. When something seems implausible, it most likely is. And the idea that Russia would move one-third of its forces to a part of Ukraine with little strategic value when it was failing to advance anywhere else on the map was ridiculous.
But Russia is dumb; we know that. So it made sense to keep an eye on things. In the end, the most that Russia could accomplish was to capture three “towns” with a combined population of around 80 people. If there were 100,000 Russian troops in the area, why were we only seeing a few dozen here or there?
In any case, Ukraine has recaptured at least two of those three “towns,” and maybe even the third. There is violence and death in that section of the front, so I don’t mean to minimize what those troops are experiencing. But in the greater scheme of things, it’s not very relevant at all. There were never 100,000 Russian troops, and Ukraine never worried too much about it.
The real action is happening down south.
After the initial attempt at a big armored breakthrough failed, Ukraine reverted to a more cautious approach, with a refocus on shaping the battlefield in southern Ukraine. That meant two things: 1.) degrading Russia’s massive artillery advantage, and 2.) degrading Russia’s logistics. If Russian frontline troops can’t get the supplies they need, and if they can’t put up a wall of artillery in front of a Ukrainian advance, things look a lot different for any Ukrainian advance.
Ukrainian counterbattery fire has done a number on Russian artillery, and General Staff still claims between 20-30 artillery kills every single day.
Russia has long ago adjusted for GMLRS rocket artillery, moving its supply depots and hubs beyond its range. But that changed with the arrival of British Storm Shadow cruise missiles and their French counterpart, SCALP. Suddenly, supply depots, troop concentrations, and command control centers once considered safe by Russia are going “boom” all around Russian-occupied territory. And just as importantly, so are bridges.
In fact, Ukraine just shut down the last remaining rail link connecting Crimea to southern Ukraine.
Russian can truck supplies in, but it is infinitely more challenging to do so. Trucks use more fuel, they break down, they get ambushed by partisans, more stuff gets stolen or “diverted,” and you need far more vehicles to transfer the same amount of supplies that a single train can ship.
It’s the same problem with closing the grain shipping corridor. There are other ways for Ukraine to move that grain—like trucks and rail—but those have nowhere near the capacity of a single one of those massive container ships.
Given current satellite photos and a single Russian on-the-ground photo (they’re being better at hiding the evidence this time around), it’s hard to tell just how extensive the damage to the bridge is. Rail lines can be fixed quickly, so it depends on how damaged the bridge’s supports are. But now we know Ukraine can hit it, and can continue to hit it to keep the bridge out of action.
Indeed, we’re starting to see something akin to last year’s Ukrainian counteroffensives, where Ukraine spent the spring and summer shaping the battlefield, targeting Russian logistics, command, and control, then pulled the big trigger in the fall. Let’s hope for equal success!