|GUISHAN KHAN / AFP-GETTY|
Vladimir Putin is not a happy murderous thug these days. In fact, he seems to be downright pouty.
At home, the abjectly corrupt Russian leader has been propped up by the historic ability of Russians to feel sorry for themselves, a trait that Putin vigorously stokes through a massive propaganda machine that depicts Mother Russia as beleaguered and misunderstood because of its myriad foreign adversaries.
But a punky economy, a festering war in Ukraine, mixed rural election results and election-related protest demonstrations in 38 cities last Sunday, as well as "the messiness of the democratic process" in general, as The New Yorker's Masha Gessen puts it, are conspiring to tank Putin's popularity.
Abroad, things aren't going very well either. The reasons are many, but they pretty much begin and end with Donald Trump:
Even if you don't believe Putin is giving direct orders to Trump, and I remain skeptical of that, the president's unpredictable and erratic behavior is giving him fits.
Trump has not only been unable to quash Robert Mueller's Russia scandal investigation, public support fo the special counsel is growing while Trump's falls.
Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort's possible flirtation with flipping is giving Putin fits because of what he knows about the campaign's collusion with Moscow.
The poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal in England only nine days after Manafort partner Rick Gates flipped was a veiled message to Manafort to clam up.
The Skripal poisoning backfired badly, and led to tough new automatically-triggered U.S. sanctions against Russia and the oligarch pals who help keep Putin in power.
But Putin's most severe chest pains when it comes to the American president is that finally -- yes, finally -- the anti-Trump backlash has grown to the point where it is about to collide with the Republicans' structural majority in Congress.
Although it is unwise to become too enamored with the latest poll results after the beating right-minded Americans took in 2016 when Trump "won," albeit with Putin's help, it is increasingly likely that Democrats will take back the House and now have a decent shot at the Senate, as well.
The consequence is simple but writ large: A corrupt and authoritarian president who has methodically sought to insulate himself against accountability (sounds like Putin, eh?) will be subjected to real oversight and probably impeachment, and new and tougher Russia sanction are probable.
Putin is accustomed to getting his way. Will his poutiness become something much worse? We don't know, but not just Manafort had better watch his back.
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and related developments.