Can Yevgeny Prigozhin’s attempted “coup” reverse the fate of arms in Ukraine? This was the wish of Nato, which hoped for this uprising and awakened its sleeper agents in Russia. The United Kingdom and the United States wanted to finally bring about the partition of the country that they had been unable to complete in 1991 .
The creation of private military companies (PMCs), including the Wagner Group, was an idea endorsed by President Vladimir Putin to test new forms of command before selecting and imposing the best ones on his army. In the space of a few years, these companies have tested many different methods, often proving their effectiveness. The time had come to complete the restructuring of the Russian army by disbanding them and integrating their forces into the regular army . A deadline had been set by President Putin: July 1. Last month, the Ministry of Defense therefore sent draft contracts to the various private military companies to plan their incorporation. But the Wagner Group refused to respond, and Yevgeny Prigozhin stepped up his insults against the Minister and the Chief of Staff.
It’s important to understand what’s going on: Russia’s creation of private military companies is the equivalent of what the United States did, under Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, when it increased the use of PMCs on the bangs of the Pentagon. At first it worked, but these companies also worked for the CIA, and the mix of genres led to a series of disasters. When they were working exclusively for the Pentagon, their executives spoke out in public, like Blackwater’s Erik Prince. But they never took a stand against the Secretary of Defense or the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
By the way, neither Blackwater’s U.S. soldiers nor Wagner’s Russians are mercenaries. They are fighting for their country, and are paid to take inordinate risks that cannot be asked of regular soldiers. On the contrary, mercenaries fight for money under the command of a foreign power.
The fact that the head of a private military company publishes inflammatory videos against the heads of regular armies for two months, and moreover in the middle of a military operation, would not be tolerated in any state. Yet it was with Yevgeny Prigozhin in Russia. The correspondents we interviewed during these two months all considered that the Kremlin was letting him bawl to capture the attention of Westerners and conceal from them the reorganization of the regular armies. Some began to roll their eyes when, in March, there was talk of Prigozhin running for the Ukrainian presidency: had the swindler lost his sense of proportion?
Western intelligence services focused on Yevgeny Prigozhin from the start of military operations in Ukraine. On March 18, they revealed a thousand documents on his activities . The aim was to expose the network of companies he had set up, in order to lend credibility to the accusation that Russia was not an anti-colonial power, since Wagner was plundering Africa. But in the final analysis, these documents show that Prigozhin is a thug, not that he steals from the countries he works with.
He took part in the hunt for corruption within the Russian armed forces, but that didn’t stop him from developing corruption outside the armed forces. It is possible that, thanks to these investigations, Westerners have found a way to manipulate him; the man being both a patriot and a proven swindler, convicted in the Soviet Union. We don’t know, and won’t know until the case is over.
The fact remains that Yevgeny Prigozhin has embarked on an enterprise worthy of the oligarchs of the Yeltsin period. He claims that the Minister of Defense, the touvain Sergei Choigou, went to Rostov-on-Don to supervise the bombing of Wagner’s troops. He accused the Ministry of Defense of murdering thousands of his men. Finally, he left the front and came to Rostov-on-Don to take possession of the headquarters of the regular armies. He announced that he was marching on Moscow with his 25,000 men to settle scores with the Minister of Defense and the Chief of Staff.
In his latest video, he declares: “We were ready to make concessions to the Ministry of Defense, to give up our weapons, to find a solution on how we would continue to defend the country (…) Today, they launched rocket attacks on our camps. Many soldiers died. We will decide how to respond to this atrocity. The next round is ours. This creature [the Minister of Defense] will be stopped.”
Wagner had 25,000 men at his disposal, but not just on the Ukrainian front. Many were stationed in Asia and Africa. What’s more, although he has aircraft at his disposal, his air force is inadequate compared with that of the regular armies, and his column would have been bombed without him being able to protect it.
In less than a day, all the authorities in the Russian Federation renewed their allegiance to the Kremlin. President Vladimir Putin spoke on television. He recalled the precedent of 1917, when Lenin withdrew Tsarist Russia from the First World War when it was close to victory. He called on everyone to assume their responsibilities and serve the fatherland rather than personal adventure.
During his speech, Vladimir Putin praised the valour of Wagner’s soldiers, many of whom died for their country. He did not hold them responsible for the situation, but asked them not to follow their leader against the state and therefore against the people.
Concluding his short address to the Nation, President Vladimir Putin declared: “We will save what is dear and holy to us. We will overcome all tests, we will become even stronger”.
This speech was broadcast over and over again on Russian TV, dramatizing the situation.
The Prosecutor General of the Russian Federation opened an investigation against Prigozhin for “organizing an armed rebellion”.
The Ukrainian authorities appealed on social networks to the Belarusian opposition to take advantage of the Russian disorder, rise up and eliminate President Alexander Lukashenko .
The Russian secret services, which had been watching all the protagonists and keeping a low profile from the outset, had the traitors who had unmasked themselves in Belarus and Russia arrested in flagrante delicto.
During the day, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, who had been telephoned by his Russian counterpart, contacted Yevgeny Prigozhin and persuaded him to abandon his plans and return his troops to the front. Vladimir Putin gave his word that the rebel would respect the agreement he had signed. The latter announced that he was giving up on overthrowing Shoïgu and Gerasimov.
End of story.
First point: there was never any attempt at a “coup d’état”. Wagner was not capable of taking Moscow, and Prigozhin never verbally attacked President Putin. In fact, Putin never denounced anything of the sort, but rather “a stab in the back” against Russian forces in the Ukraine.
Secondly, this is not a “mutiny” either. Wagner does not report to the Minister of Defense, but directly to the President. Prigozhin rebelled against it and it alone. His only demand was to remain independent of the regular armies. If he was ready to give up his military activities, he clings to the related businesses he has developed in all theaters of operation where he is present. As we have said, the man is both a patriot and a swindler.
Third point: in the words of President Putin, this is “armed rebellion” and “abandonment of duty”. Wagner left the front, but the Ukrainians didn’t dare, or couldn’t, attack the part of the front he had abandoned. Now, there’s nothing more contemptible to Russians than defenders who abandon their posts. That’s why Prigozhin had broadcast a video the previous day claiming that Kiev had not bombed the Donbass in the previous eight years, shamelessly contradicting the observations of the OSCE and the UN Security Council. Unfortunately for him, the Russians don’t take kindly to anyone questioning their good faith.
At this point, one more remark is in order: while rebelling against President Putin, Prigozhin didn’t kill anyone. His troops entered Rostov-on-Don without encountering any resistance. Regular Russian forces did not attack Wagner’s headquarters in Saint Petersburg. Prigozhin’s men did not march on Moscow. The Ministry of Defense apparently fired no missiles at Wagner’s soldiers. The Prosecutor General has closed the rebellion case. The Wagner militiamen who did not take part in the rebellion were immediately integrated into the regular army. Three units returned to the front. The fate of militiamen who took part in the rebellion will be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.
All in all, the state has not been weakened. The two winners are the Russian Federation and Belarus. The fact remains that, in the Russian mind, the whole affair was largely staged: we witnessed a threatening rebellion that immediately dissipated. The only thing that remained was the questioning of the quality of military command – a stubborn idea, despite the population’s faith in the self-sacrificing spirit of its soldiers.
At the end of this strange episode, President Putin spoke again on television. He praised the Wagner fighters and called on them to join the regular army, the secret service or other security forces. He also gave them the choice of returning home or joining Prigojine in Belarus.
All sorts of hypotheses are circulating on Russian social networks. The most surprising is that Wagner could not rebel and march on the capital without the help of the Ministry of Defense, which supplied him with fuel.
The next few weeks should see the final phase in the transformation of the Russian army. It is by no means certain that those who clashed yesterday will turn out to be adversaries.
 “The Western strategy to dismantle the Russian Federation”, by Thierry Meyssan , Translation Roger Lagassé, Voltaire Network, 17 August 2022.