Yevgeny Prigozhin's Wild Ride
@bigserge: Nigerian here. Just wanted to add a few thoughts of my own to your analysis.
In the African countries where Wagner is active, they have local support. For example, a monument was built in Central Africa Republic by a local sculptor to celebrate Wagner's successful fightback against Jihadist insurgents.
I monitor Russian Telegram Channels and I have heard some of the masked Wagner fighters in the Donbass region say that they wish to return to Africa where things are much easier.
Fact of the matter is that Wagner on the African continent had a free hand to operate with no oversight from Russian MOD at all, and only minimal supervision from Kremlin and the host African state.
So there is a deep resentment from Prigozhin and a faction of his fighters about the subjugation to dictates of Russian MOD in the Ukrainian Theatre of Operations.
In Bakhmut, Wagner could not simply plan and execute its own operations. It had to obey the dictates of Russian MOD, a military bureaucratic entity they did not particularly like or respect.
You can see how Prigohzin was going mad in Bakhmut about not getting the weapons they need.
It was not about whether the munitions were really enough. It was about the fact that Wagner could not get what they demanded upon request as would have been the case in any African nation where they were operating.
If Wagner troops asked the governments of Burkina Faso, Mali or Central Africa Republic to supply certain material to help the local counterinsurgency effort, they always got it without arguments. (Please note that host African countries do pay for some of the weaponry used by Wagner, although not all of it).
Prigozhin and the loyalist core of his fighters just could not adapt themselves to the situation in the SMO Zone in Ukraine. It was just too different from their African experience. Attempts to absorb Wagner into the regular Russian Army was the last straw. So they revolted against Russian MOD and the rest is history.
I completely ignored all the news knowing full well all of it was narrative driven and I was going to be patient to wait for an analysis here.
I was not disappointed. Not only was the analysis outstanding, but fast in arriving.
Thank you for this wonderful analysis, the most convincing I've read so far on Prighozin. I would love to read more often about the war in Ukraine.
Say what you will about Prigozyhyn: he caused the death of Russian servicemen, he definitely caused some kind of morale drop judging by the numerous minor tactical successes the Ukrainians have enjoyed today, and which may or may not snowball into something else. Unlikely, but this is war. He put his own priorities ahead of Russia's, in the face of an existential war which has a long way to run.
Despite that, I consider him an absolute legend. His story ended ignominiously but it was not so for most of it. I can't forget Soledar and Bakhmut, and how absolutely larger than life he was, free of any burdens or bounds. I consider it totally unsurprising that the Russian citizenry cheered wildly for Wagner AND Putin at the end of the rebellion; it remains a complicated relationship, and Russians seem to be still capable of having those as opposed to the boring binary West where everything is either "good" or "bad".
The idea that Russia, which has been terrible at P.R. management throughout this war, when it has even tried to manage P.R. at all, would engage in an incredibly elaborate ruse going back months, a ruse which not only required all parties, including Russia's enemies, to play their parts perfectly, but also allowed Ukraine supporters to spin a huge, public, and comprehensive defeat into a victory, is all a bit too much.
If that's "The Plan" then Russia needs better plans or better planners.
A much simpler explanation - Prigozhin let success and fame go to his head, and didn't want to be swept aside. This would not be the first time that this has happened to someone. He wasn't shunted aside after previous performative stunts, because the Stavka and Putin didn't want to make a martyr out of the man, turn a loudmouth with no filter into The War Hero Who Was Sacked For Telling The Truth. The fact that Prigozhin shoots his mouth off continually, and says all sorts of inconsistent things helps him here. Those who are against the war can cherry pick a statement or two and say that represents Progozhin's beliefs. Those who favor escalation can say that is The Real Prigozhin. Those who have some other idea can probably find something that the man said at one time for them to like and decide that everything else is a headfake. Sort of like Donald Trump.
It seems like Prigozhin was expecting to repeat his success in Crimea 2014. At that time, a pretty prosecutor from Kiev, Natalya "Nyash Myash" Poklonskaya had rallied the local police authorities to ally with the regional government and not Kiev. The local population overwhelmingly welcomed intervention from Russia and rejected Kiev.
Putin sent in "the polite green men", a combination of state forces and private security people who would later be known as the Wagner Group. Many of these were already in place at the Russian naval base in Sevastopol and as private security throughout the territory. These forces numbered around 20,000 I believe. Their task was to neutralize Ukrainian army forces of around 60,000 army and navy troops.
Initially the pro-Russian forces were outnumbered 3 to 1. However, many of the Ukrainian troops were Crimeans hostile to the new regime. 20,000 of them were persuaded to sign on with the Russian army and navy for better pay and conditions. 20,000 of them simply deserted and returned to civilian life. The loyal Ukrainian troops were now outnumbered 2 to 1 in a hostile environment. They wisely accepted safe passage back to Ukraine, with barely a shot fired.
Prigozhin may have gambled that he could repeat that feat banking on Wagners popular celebration in movies (Best in Hell and Redemption) and music videos (Summer and Crossbows).
That's all I got.
Well stated Serge. He read his press clippings and believed them. And probably has some PTSD issues. There are no huge hidden plots here.
Prigozhin was a businessman resisting nationalisation. Usually, such people do not have tanks so they resist by lobbying Parliament. He had tanks so he chose a different path. Same idea though.
No doubt the Russian state going forward will be careful not to contract out making war. Although the whole PMC “thing” clearly had benefits at the time.
Your US comparison is spot on too. We ought not to gloat in the west. France and the ongoing “protests” there provide another comparator too.
A great piece ,also showing the pathetic state that the Western world's media have fallen to.
Prighozin is MERCENARY somi would not be surprised if he was a,so promised cash.Whether he can spend it is another question.
Another commentator has compared this with the failed 1961 coup against De Gaulle by a quartet of Generals, lasted about the same time 4 or 5 days I think
Keep going Serge, you know your stuff
What do these PEOPLE have in common?Prigozhin,Zelenky,Kolomoisky,Wolfwowitz,
Mikhelson,Fridman, Prokhorov, Khan,Abramovich,Moshe Kantor,Mamut,Nesis,
Moshkovich,Boris Rotenberg...so ON and On
A question: Was the Kremlin aware of Prigozhin's plot before the fact? If it wasn't (which I doubt) why wasn't it? The ever forthright and truthful Americans claim they knew in advance. Substacker Simplicius the Thinker notes that even bloggers like Wargonzo had recently brought up the indelicate subject of a march on Moscow with Prigozhin. These events start to look less like the machinations of an impenetrable cabal than a coming attraction teased openly on Telegram.
For the sake of argument, let's assume the Kremlin knew enough to consider a coup attempt by Prigozhin a real possibility. Why not preempt it?
It's not impossible to come up with reasons the Kremlin might entertain doing nothing. By letting Prigozhin draw first, they might discredit a charismatic loose cannon without instigating a public or, worse, military backlash by a preemptive arrest; rein in a popular but unruly organization and place it under the explicit authority of the defense ministry; and coax adversarial intelligence operations to come out in the open. Under the circumstances it might look like a least-bad option.
There is another dimension, perhaps serendipitous, perhaps by design, to consider. By swiftly and categorically crushing Prigozhin's gambit, the Russian state administered a dose of unpleasant reality to a long-cherished neocon belief. The Putin government is not a house of cards. It will not collapse from within. To the contrary, the deadly buffoonery of this interlude should be, in a saner world, as much a wakeup call as the stillborn counteroffensive by NATO's Ukrainian proxies.
Should be, but won't, at least to the revanchist, reality-proof ideological vanguard with clubhouses in D.C. and Brussels. They will persist till the end of time, which, if they have their way, may come sooner than any of us would like. But as their harebrained hopes and illusions—the march to Mariupol, the Moscow maidan—fall away one by one, some of the West's fair-weather followers may, just may, begin to come to their senses.
Not to venture too far into the camp of omni-competence, but could it be that the Russian government let Prigozhin make his play within something like a political security or crumple zone, wagering it would safely—relatively safely—expose not only Prigozhin's perfidy but the West's follacious [sic] assumptions?
Maybe that's just more lemonade. If it is, I hope the acumen and expertise of Big Serge and others, however marginal they are for now, help bring some of that sweet citrus to the blinkered. It's up to them to drink.
I'm surprised you've gone to press so quickly on this as I think anyone who says they know for sure what's going on in Russia right now is lying to themselves and lying to his or her audience. But that's a cool-headed weighing up of the evidence and drawing of conclusions thereon. Quite where events will lead to in the next seven days appears to be anybody's guess at the moment and you're wise enough not to make any wild predictions, unlike the terminally wrong western twitterati.
Essentially Prigozhin is a modern day pirate. I'm sure there must be historical parallels in terms of British pirate captains (or 'privateers') in the Caribbean turning on shipping belonging to their own king. He is a traitor and that's all he is. His men get the credit for Soledar/Bakhmut, sure. Not him.
He's a pirate who found himself in an ultimate stakes poker game and he lost. I do suspect he genuinely wanted to force Putin into reversing the absorption of Wagner into the Russian military. That may very well be the only motivation for this act of folly. I don't get any sense of him wanting to cause the unravelling of the Russian state. The 'protest march' was simply, as you suggest, designed to shock Putin into maintaining the status quo. The very fact that Prigozhin appears to be still at large is evidence that he does carry enough power to cause the Russia government/military significant problems, sufficient for them to back off and kick the Prigozhin can down the road.
But if the Belarus exile story is accurate, that's all Putin has achieved: take the country-destabilising problem and move it next door. That's just buying time. It's also handing over a country-destabilising problem to his next door neighbour, Lukashenko, who has far less resources than Russia to be able to deal with Prigozhin and elements of Wagner loyal to him, which I'd guess is a hell of a lot of them, but we'll see over the coming week just how many that is. If you're Lukashenko, do you want Prigozhin and say 25,000 Wagnerites stationed on bases in Belarus? I don't believe Prigozhin could be bought off by the USA to try to coup Russia but if they offered him an amnesty and vast amounts of money to try to coup Belarus? It's such an obvious ploy that I would almost be surprised now if it didn't happen. Victoria Nuland will already be working on it. The presence of Russian military with nuclear weapons is a potentially world-ending level complication.
Any dismissal of the 'protest march' being a psyop must also dismiss Prigozhin's anti-Shoigu rants going back months as being psyops. With hindsight it would be easy to identify those rants as a precursor to the events of Friday and Saturday. The decision was made to absorb Wagner into the Russian army – rightly so – and this set off a chain of events that in some way was inevitable.
Let's not forget that Prigozhin had threatened to pull out of Bakhmut around the time it finally fell. I can only imagine there was no safe way for Wagner to do so without risking massive loss of life.
Russia does need to move to a totally integrated military model as quickly as possible, for their sakes. There is way too much of a medieval England vibe, with the king (Putin) relying on certain powerful barons (Prigozhin, Kadyrov) to supply their men to go off and bash some 'infidels'. Integrating Wagner had to happen and because it had to happen some degree of internal conflict was inevitable; it was just a question of where the conflict would lie on the spectrum of criticality.
I wouldn't downplay the seriousness of events. Putin has not won here. He has merely kicked the can down the road and passed the problem on to a neighbour very vulnerable to western meddling. It's less of a bomb disposal and more of a chucking a grenade to Uncle Sasha and saying "Catch".
Assuming Prigozhin can be neutered successfully, removing the risk of him acting against the Russian military, Russia has still lost what appears to be their most successful go-forward troops. Disbanding Wagner and dispersing the men into other units seems unlikely to get the best out of those men, particularly if they are aggrieved about the decision, less lucrative contracts, etc.
It will have a negative impact on the Russian war effort, no doubt. But did Russia have any choice other than to integrate Wagner? I believe not. Bakhmut becomes even more fascinating. Prigozhin's and Wagner's last battle? Was there some element of Wagner being sacrificed, weakening Prigozhin's position? Was he right that Shoigu was playing games with munitions supplies? Both sides have been guilty of sacrificing units, I believe, and Ukraine appears far more guilty of it than Russia. If reports are to be believed, Ukraine pulled out a lot of their most capable units from Bakhmut and sent in barely capable 'cannon fodder', effectively sacrificing thousands of young men. Generals would say "This is war", I suppose, but to a civilian it feels morally repugnant.
This latest turn of events underline what a remarkable leader Putin is. He doesn't allow his emotions to rule his head and in that respect any desire by the west to see Putin replaced must stem from people 'blessed' with incredibly poor instincts, leading to incredibly reckless foreign policy. All that matters to Putin is Russia. If a few pilots get shot down, they're just men, soldiers, patriots, expendable. I remember Turkiye shooting down a Russian helicopter. What did Putin do? Nothing. Keep relations with Turkiye manageable, or avenge the men by shooting down a Turkish helicopter? The latter didn't even cross Putin's mind. Eyes on the big picture, always: Mother Russia.
Sooner or later, Russian oligarchs are brought to heel and their stuff is taken away. If they resist, they are killed. If they submit, they are allowed to take some of their stuff and have a pretty nice retirement.
Prigozyhyn was just another oligarch but with tanks so his forced retirement was a little more complicated. That's all this was.
Another theory. The best deception is one that appears to confirm the enemy's hopes. Watch the western media - it's all about how weak Putin is. Just one more push and the whole thing will collapse they're saying. Russia is winning the big war and wants the enemy to keep destroying itself by more self-ruing sanctions, more emptying out of its arsenals. As Napoleon might have said, encourage the enemy to keep making mistakes.
This was brilliant. However, I might suggest that writing after the fact, it's perhaps easier to dismiss Prigozhin's chances, and question whether a genuine coup might have been possible, if hawkish elements in the intelligence community, special forces and the ultranationalist right, seeing their opportunity to 'properly' prosecute the war, had acted accordingly. The fact that Wagner got as far as they did suggests Prigozhin did have collaborators in the right places.
Big Serge once again delivers like a pregnant woman.
Wagner is an affective fighting force but it needs to operate under the MoD and Prigos outbursts and insults to Shoigu have outlived their usefulness.
He is now an irritant and traitor who tried to plunge Russia in a crisis when facing an existential war.
Just last week, he said that Ukraine was not killing Donbas civilians and that the SMO was based on lies and the end game is to profit. He'd be naive to think Putin will forgive him. Prigo is a dead man walking