Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “If you want to kill a king you have to strike him.” What if it wasn’t Russian President Vladimir Putin who was being attacked in the bizarre weekend mutiny?
Yevgeny Prgozhin, the former “Putin’s chef” and Wagner Group mercenary leader, led what appeared to be a coup during 24 hours of tension on Friday and Saturday. His mercenary force of professionals, thugs and convicts took over Rostov-on Don and the Southern Military District Headquarters with little resistance. The second column of Wagner troops came as close as Hitler’s army did to Moscow in winter 1941 before it was called off.
Prigozhin demanded the removal of Sergei Shoigu, the Russian defense minister, and other senior members of an “oligarchic group” who had misled Putin and the Russian nation regarding the war. Prigozhin did not call for Putin’s removal, but instead focused on the military leaders. It would be more accurate to refer to the events as a mutiny than a coup.
“All of these bastards should be sent to front barefoot and with only a submachinegun,” Prigozhin stated about Russia’s military leaders last October.
ISW said that Prigozhin “may have wildly erred” when the mutiny began. Shoigu, Putin, and the Wagner Group will all be integrated into Russia’s army and Prigozhin is facing what appears to be exile in Belarus.
You never know.
I am not a stranger to the rivalry that exists between Prigozhin, and Putin. In November, when Prigozhin formed “parallel structures” in Belgorod oblast and Kursk oblast, I noted that “it appears that there is a growing force privately-held ground forces headed by a person with his own agenda,” and suggested to Putin that he “sleep tightly.”
Eight months later, an armored columns moved on Moscow even if it was only for a short time.
Prigozhin, who had been withdrawn from Ukraine’s front line, was ordered by Putin to integrate Wagner units into the Russian army earlier this month. He resisted the order. Putin saw him and Wagner as a threat to Moscow, and integration was his solution to neutralize that threat.
Maybe Prigozhin’s abortive mutiny wasn’t such a bad mistake, but rather a desperate gamble to save Wagner and himself.
In the early morning hours of Monday, military analyst Rob Lee (one the best) said that “it’s still unclear what the terms of the agreement that Prigozhin has reached with the Kremlin are.”
We do know that Putin himself referred to the mutiny as “treason” in his own words and pledged to “harsh measures” to suppress it. It is not necessary to study Russian history in depth to understand that treason results in death. Prigozhin’s survival makes Putin look weak. To be fair, Prigozhin will need a food sampler and avoid multi-story buildings as long as he wants to live.
Since months, Moscow has been trying to eliminate Prigozhin Wagner. Now, even after an embarrassing mutiny, Prigozhin survives. What if Prigozhin was the king who was struck but still lived?
We barely know what we do not know at this point. The biggest mystery is why Prigozhin stepped down when he looked to be on the brink of success. This is a conjecture, but out of all the crazy guesses I’ve heard on the news or online, it’s the most intriguing.
Is Yevgeny Prgozhin, a former Kremlin chef who ended up with his own private army now a nuclear force? This is such an absurd idea that I can’t even entertain it.