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Prigozhin Chickens Out of Insurrection, But Weakens Putin and Position in Ukraine

Russian catering oligarch and mercenarist Yevgeny Prigozhin has tried to undermine U.S. elections with propaganda for years. Recognizing that there are no free and fair elections in Russia for him to undermine to sate his ambitions, Prigozhin this weekend apparently tried to overthrow his own government the old-fashioned way, with a march on Moscow. Claiming that the Russian military had bombed his own Wagner mercenary troops in Ukraine, Prigozhin turned thousands of his private soldiers around, seized control of military facilities in Rostov-on-Don started moving troops north through Voronezh to the Russian capital faster than Hitler did in 1941.

And then, within 200 kilometers of Moscow, not much more than the drive from Huron to Pierre, Prigozhin retreated, saying he didn’t want Russian blood to be spilled:

“They wanted to disband the Wagner military company. We embarked on a march of justice on June 23. Now, the moment has come when blood could be spilled,” said Prigozhin in an audio message.

“Understanding responsibility [for the chance] that Russian blood will be spilled on one side, we are turning our columns around and going back to field camps as planned” [“Wagner Boss Calls Off March on Moscow, Agrees to Exile in Belarus,” Aljazeera, 2023.06.24].

As planned?! You abandon positions in Ukraine and rally your goons to turn their guns on Moscow, only to cede control of a big chunk of your private troops to Putin, lose face with your allies in the Kremlin and among your own forces, and accept exile in Belarus, an even worse post-Soviet cesspool than Russia? That was your plan?

Prigozhin’s mercenaries have been brutal yet effective in Ukraine. Prigozhin’s withdrawal to Belarus could raise fears that this whole blitzkrieg and blitzrückzug are an elaborate feint to station Wagner in Belarus, which is getting Russian tactical nukes, to reopen a northern front and march on Kyiv. But such a feint could have been achieved with far less damage to both Putin and Prigozhin by simply withdrawing Wagner from eastern Ukraine and having them turn left at Voronezh to head for Gomel in Belarus, without any pretense of threatening to storm the Kremlin and creating the impression of Kremlin so weak that it has to rely on the Chechens—Chechens!—to save Russia. Even such a deliberate feint throws the Russian defense of its occupied positions in eastern Ukraine into even greater disarray, offering Zelenskyy’s forces the chance to recapture Ukrainian territory with minimal losses and pivot to defend their northern flank before Prigozhin and Moscow and can get their poop in a group to march from Minsk. And until and unless the secretly still-pals Putin and Prigozhin launch a successful second front, they leave Prigozhin looking like an ineffective coward and Putin looking like Gorbachev plodding dazedly off the plane from Crimea in August 1991.

But let’s not reach for the kinds of conspiracy theories that Prigozhin pushed on social media to undermine confidence in Western democracy. Yesterday’s aborted insurrection shows the weakness of a regime ruled by the cult of personality and corruption rather than a shared commitment to public institutions and the rule of law. Prigozhin got a big head, thinking that running a gang of thugs who outperformed his nation’s regular troops in a quagmired invasion of a neighboring country gave him the power to lead a mad-dash rebellion against his patron Putin. A couple hours from the gates of Moscow, Prigozhin came to his senses and saved his skin but not much else. Prigozhin has weakened the Russian position in Ukraine, and he has knocked a leg out from under the regime of his old St. Petersburg pal Putin, but he has left himself in no position to assume the mantle of power when Putin falls.


  1. larry kurtz 2023-06-25 10:34

    Is anyone else curious which Russian oligarchs have money stashed in South Dakota’s unscrupulous banks and trusts?

  2. John 2023-06-25 10:39

    Two more considerations, complementing Cory’s excellent analysis.
    Russian, imprisoned Alexei Navalny penned perhaps the oped of the month, maybe of the year. (likely paywall)
    “If we examine the primary things said by Western leaders on this score, the bottom line remains: Russia (Putin) must not win this war. Ukraine must remain an independent democratic state capable of defending itself.
    This is correct, but it is a tactic. The strategy should be to ensure that Russia and its government naturally, without coercion, do not want to start wars and do not find them attractive. This is undoubtedly possible. Right now the urge for aggression is coming from a minority in Russian society.
    In my opinion, the problem with the West’s current tactics lies not just in the vagueness of their aim, but in the fact that they ignore the question: What does Russia look like after the tactical goals have been achieved? Even if success is achieved, where is the guarantee that the world will not find itself confronting an even more aggressive regime, tormented by resentment and imperial ideas that have little to do with reality? With a sanctions-stricken but still big economy in a state of permanent military mobilization? And with nuclear weapons that guarantee impunity for all manner of international provocations and adventures?
    . . . In the 31 years since the collapse of the U.S.S.R., we have witnessed a clear pattern: The countries that chose the parliamentary republic model (the Baltic states) are thriving and have successfully joined Europe. Those that chose the presidential-parliamentary model (Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia) have faced persistent instability and made little progress. Those that chose strong presidential power (Russia, Belarus and the Central Asian republics) have succumbed to rigid authoritarianism, most of them permanently engaged in military conflicts with their neighbors, daydreaming about their own little empires.”

    Second, Peter Turchin, wrote a trilogy of predicting the collapse of societies using math, yes, math. Actually the fourth book is a text book. It is fascinating Turchin arrives at a similar place as did Strauss and Howe via their tome, Generations and subsequent books. (Also note Jared Diamond’s reflective, “Collapse: How Societies Choose or Fail to Succeed”)
    “For as long as complex human societies have existed there have been people predicting their imminent collapse. In recent years, the apocalypse business has become far more scientific; animal entrails and planetary portents have given way to big data. Peter Turchin is a pre-eminent digital-age seer or, as he suggests, a collapsologist. He trained in biology, using statistical models to examine networks of relationships between predators and prey. In the 1990s, however, after witnessing first-hand the sudden unravelling of the Soviet Union, from which his father had been a dissident exile, he turned his analytical brain to a different set of questions. Turchin set out to discover statistical patterns in the great flood of historical data that might predict future instabilities in societies. Like all Cassandras worth their infamy, he came to his vocation at a fortunate time.

    Turchin calls his method “cliodynamics”. In a series of books – War and Peace and War (2006) and The Ages of Discord (2016) – he has used his datasets to try to establish the basis on which all human civilisations in the era of cities and states have the mechanisms of their own destruction built-in. He not only endeavours to show that complex mathematics might unlock those derailing forces, but also how it might help to avert them.

    The most common pattern he presents is “an alternation of integrative and disintegrative phases lasting for roughly a century”. His predictions have a special urgency because western societies, and particularly America, are, he suggests, very near the end of that latter disintegrative phase, which makes the likelihood of civil war or potential systemic collapse far more likely. His model attempts to weight certain factors to predict this social meltdown. Key among them are rapidly growing inequality of wealth and wages, an overproduction of potential elites – children of wealthy dynasties, graduates with advanced degrees, frustrated social commentators – and an uncontrolled growth in public debt. In the US, he suggests – and by association the UK – these “factors started to take an ominous turn in the 1970s… The data pointed to the years around 2020 when the confluence of these trends was expected to trigger a spike in political instability. And here we are.””

  3. sx123 2023-06-25 12:52

    Weird stuff. If it wasn’t some elaborate diversion, who knows how long Prigozhin stays alive in Belarus. Stay off the balconey!

  4. All Mammal 2023-06-25 13:16

    It seems likely that there is a violently suppressed yearning within Putin Annie to be the Lady Gaga/ Mae West star of Russian espionage theatre. Everytha-hing he does is a misleading performance for his American audience. He sometimes uses cameos from other dudes who love being filmed playing dress up and giving the people drama while dressed in combat boots and tactical regalia. They’re always on stage and expect roses at their feet when they take their bow. Superstars

    Pootie Pie’s goal is for the world to see his grand opera performance where he artfully causes the US to soil themselves before they crap out. Destroying America is all that matters to him. Then maybe daddy will care.

  5. All Mammal 2023-06-25 13:57

    I wonder what Putin and his costar, the Wagner wagger might benefit from their backstage waggling in Sudan.? Is The Wagner Group/Putin going to acquire territory in Africa next? I wonder what was happening thousands of miles away during the march on Moscow flash mob performance..? Slight of hand is his liege’s favorite made-you-look trick.

  6. Arlo Blundt 2023-06-25 14:00

    Russia is teetering on the edge again…it could fall into chaos at any moment. The younger generation of Russians refuse to fight in Ukraine. 18 and 19 year old conscripts, poorly trained and equipped and very skeptical about Putin’s leadership refuse to take offensive action in Ukraine. Putin is fighting the Ukrainians with artillery and his air force. Wagner Group mercenaries were holding territory. Russia has a GDP the size of Italy and can’t afford bullets and rockets. Oligarchs have destroyed any semblance of an economy and the ruble is worthless.

  7. Jeff Barth 2023-06-25 16:45

    Game of Thrones.
    Kill the King or die.

  8. 96Tears 2023-06-25 17:01

    Amen to that, Mr. Barth. Close doesn’t count except in horseshoes and hand grenades. Putin survived. Now comes the counterpunch. Never underestimate the counterpunch. Prigozhin is toast. It’s just a matter of when and how.

  9. grudznick 2023-06-25 18:21

    Lar, as you well know, who has how much money where it none of your bidness, outside of your jealous grubbing. When you post the links to your banking amounts there in your out-of-state banking world, you can complain about Russians or Germans or Norwegians or South Dakotans who bank here in South Dakota. Where our banking industry is the Greatest!

    Plus, I’m sure the gubbmint already knows ALL about your banking practices.

  10. grudznick 2023-06-25 18:31

    and grudznick knows where the ziplock bag you buried in your back yard is, as you were very talkative later that night you were noshing on the Gymnopilus.

  11. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2023-06-25 19:33

    Russian State Duma (that’s their parliament) Defense Committee Head Andrei Kartapolov says Wagner is “the most combat-ready unit in Russia“. Reprehensible and dangerous as private soldiers are, Putin has so mismanaged his military that these mercenaries are now indispensible to his war effort.

  12. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2023-06-25 19:38

    Institute for the Study of War, linked immediately above, also says Prigozhin marched toward Moscow Saturday with insufficient forces to occupy Moscow or fight any sustained battle with the Russian Army. ISW says, “Wagner’s move on Moscow was likely predicated on the assumption that military support would strengthen the rebellion’s forces and capabilities.” When the military didn’t rush to join his advancing column, Prigozhin bailed. The Russian blood Prigozhin said he didn’t want shed was his own and his meager column, which stood to be annihilated if they kept coming.

  13. larry kurtz 2023-06-25 20:56

    Idaho and Montana are bracing for civil unrest as christian/anarchist militias armed for the End Days are rattle online newspaper fora and blogs with vitriol for people of color. But, how these bozos expect to take on ATF, FBI, and Homeland Security is the height of ignorance. Think Katrina: if civil order is temporarily suspended these idiots will kill only those innocents by whom they feel threatened.

    So-called sovereign citizens are overwhelmingly white christians using a maladapted interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment to rationalize their commitment to a pending race war using links to the federal storming of Ruby Ridge, Idaho and the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas then culminating in the Oklahoma City bombing. Many are either convicted felons no longer able to vote or have been recruited by those who believe that the democratic process is ineffective and cities especially in blue states will collapse.

  14. Arlo Blundt 2023-06-25 21:42

    Prigozhin is taking Wagner Group to Belarus under the wing of Lukashanko, Belarus dictator and Putin loyalist. Alexander Lukashenko is an old Stalinist who has put down young peoples revolts in Belarus after his last two bloody, fixed, elections. His is a potential “failed state” as well. Why Lukashenko wants Wagner Group in Belarus is spun by saying he can attack Kiev much easier from the near by Belarus border. It may be he’s there to protect Lukashenko from his own people.

  15. leslie 2023-06-26 03:52

    Larry, i don’t think this is hyperbole.

  16. larry kurtz 2023-06-26 07:13

    Good morning, Leslie. Comrade Prigozhin and Michael Flynn have plenty in common: they’re power hungry ideologues with little to lose riling up their bases with promises of glory and redemption. Think of Mrs. Noem and Ammon Bundy as followers where states like South Dakota and Idaho are tips of the spear that would rip America apart.

  17. jerry 2023-06-26 07:43

    Prigozhin just wanted to be paid. With Putin, you cannot file a mechanics lien. Wagner will keep on keeping on. Russia needs them in Africa, to get the gold and in Syria, to protect their warm water port access. Prigozhin will just be operating remotely. As Cory links, Putin is a wounded duck now so there is no migrating, only to wait for the water to freeze to become wolf meal. So much for the tough guy, Putin has proven he is just as phoney as the rest of his GOP.

  18. John 2023-06-26 09:04

    Historically, few coups succeed. The self-aggrieved frequently lack the vision and resources to toss the status quo. Coups that succeed frequently had outside support (Soviet, US, Russian, et al.). Outside support can be a tenuous thread upon which to base a coup for such support may dissipate like the morning fog.

  19. Bob Newland 2023-06-26 09:39

    Navalny seems to be able to get press releases and op-eds out of prison at will. Does anyone else find this odd?

  20. jerry 2023-06-26 09:45

    Spot on Mr. Newland. This guy fits the bill for a replacement that will keep the status quo while shouldering the Putin defeat in Ukraine. The main thing for a new guy is to protect the elite so they can get back into their comfort zones.

  21. ABC 2023-06-27 04:15

    GDP. Italy 35000 per capita. Russia 12000 per capita. Italy gdp nationally is bigger than Russia by 11% despite having half the population of Russkyville.

  22. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2023-08-23 16:09

    Update: Prigozhin didn’t even save his skin. He died today when his plane crashed while flying from Moscow to St. Petersburg:

    Locals in the Tver region say they heard tow bangs before the crash and saw two vapor trails.

    Prigozhin clearly did not think through today’s travel plan any more than he thought through his roadtrip to Moscow in June.

    Today’s lesson: if you’re going to stage a coup in Russia, you either succeed or die.

  23. P. Aitch 2023-08-23 16:25

    @Cory – Beats gettin’ poisoned. 💉 🦠

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