On Saturday 24 June 2023, Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the private military group called Wagner, occupied some key points in the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don, after which he began a march towards Moscow with a view to effecting a change in the composition of the Russian regime, if not to overthrow it altogether.
For months prior to this ultimate act of treachery, Prigozhin had been railing at the Russian military high command, calling it impotent, incompetent and corrupt, special targets of his venomous denunciations being General Sergei Shoigu, the Defence Minister, and General Valery Gerasimov, Chief of General Staff of the Russian armed forces. He accused them of withholding ammunition from Wagner combatants.
Finding no support whatever from any military units, business circles or politicians, he ordered his convoy, which had been trundling for a few hours in the direction of Moscow, to come to a halt and turn back. Within 23 hours the insurrection had spectacularly collapsed.
The question arises: what caused this foul-mouthed individual to embark on such a hazardous enterprise? The answer lies in a mixture of frustration, vanity and money. Facing the imminent transfer of Wagner’s cadres in Ukraine from his control to the Russian Ministry of Defence, this loose cannon on the deck decided to turn on his masters.
After the start of the Special Military Operation by Russia on 24 February 2023, Wagner had the responsibility for Soledar and Bakhmut, two salt-mining towns, which had been heavily fortified by the Ukrainian army. The performance of Wagner in this “meatgrinder” (as the place came to be known because of the heavy death toll in the fighting for control of Bakhmut) helped to transform Wagner into a legendary fighting force in the perception of most Russian people, in the process elevating Prigozhin’s stature considerably – achieving a well-deserved martial reputation. Wagner dominated the battlefield, while at the same time it relied on the military for the weapons, ammunition and logistical support essential for sustaining its operations.
From the start, Wagner was an adjunct of the Russian military intelligence, the GRU, and responsive to the demands of the Russian General Staff. It occupied the shadowy space between being an agent of government policy and an independently-funded military contractor.
After the start of the Special Military Operation, the role of Wagner expanded in Donbass to that of a major combatant, equipped with heavy weaponry, including armour, artillery, and even fixed-wing aircraft.
After the 22 September 2022 referendum in Donbass, which made Donbass part of Russia, an entirely different scenario arose. Russian law does not allow private armies to operate on Russian soil, so Wagner could not be allowed to function in its old capacity. While the battle for Bakhmut was raging, the Russian authorities tolerated the old structure. All the same, military support for Wagner was cut back somewhat, bringing Prigozhin into conflict with General Shoigu and General Gerasimov.
Prigozhin’s volatile behaviour and his increasingly abusive diatribes against the military not surprisingly caught the attention of pro-Ukrainian information warfare specialists who began systematically to promote Prigozhin’s narrative about the Russian army being corrupt, incompetent and impotent.
It was not long before Prigozhin’s antics were latched on to by British Intelligence and its US counterparts. Prigozhinn’s vanity, greed and sense of self-importance made him an ideal candidate for recruitment by hostile intelligence services.
The Russian Ministry of Defence required Wagner fighters to sign legally binding contracts with the Minister of Defence to be allowed to continue to serve as a combat unit, the deadline being 1 July 2023.
Scott Ritter, from whose recent article much of the information in this article is drawn, is of the view that there was collusion between the Ukrainians and Prigozhin. Such collusion “while unproven at this juncture, appears obvious in retrospect”. A key indication cited by Scott Ritter is the decision by the Ukrainians to send the so-called ‘anti-Putin’ Russian forces across the border into the Belgorod region of Russia, “helping to create the impression of Russian impotence and incompetence, notions which Prigozhin was only too happy to magnify on his Telegram channels”. This was a message that received further dissemination by Ukrainian controlled Telegram channels, including those which operated under the guise of serving ‘Russian patriots’ – all for the purpose of causing the implosion of the Putin regime.
The destruction of Russia, its break up into several easily digestible pieces, in order to loot Russia’s vast natural resources and exploit its highly-skilled and cultured people, has been the goal of Nato’s proxy war against Russia. To this end, Nato and the EU applied draconian economic sanctions against Russia after the start of the latter’s Special Military Operation in February 2022. This economic tool failed utterly; far from bringing the Russian economy to its knees, it has caused severe harm to the economies of the imperialist countries imposing these sanctions, except the US – the only country to benefit from this economic warfare at the cost of its supposed allies, especially Germany which is on course to fall into a deep recession. Germany, the economic powerhouse of the EU, was built on cheap energy and export markets. By obeying the US diktat on sanctions against Russia, Germany has shot itself in the foot, depriving itself of cheap Russian energy, as well as the Russian market for its exports and investment opportunities in that country. It is clear that through these sanctions, the US was attempting to kill two birds with one stone – to destroy the Russian economy and to knock out its German industrial competitor. While it has failed in the aim of harming the Russian economy, it has delivered a devastating blow to the German economy thanks to the course adopted by the dim-witted Scholz’s German government.
Other imperialist European economies are also suffering, having deprived themselves of access to Russian energy and their export market. Higher energy prices, consequent upon the sanctions against Russia, have driven energy bills through the roof, and accelerated further the inflationary spiral, causing central banks to raise interest rates and propel millions into bankruptcy.
Having found the economic sanctions a total failure, the collective West, namely US imperialism and its British and European vassals, doubled down by sending scores of billions of dollars-worth of lethal armaments to their Nazi Banderite puppets in Ukraine in order to defeat Russia in the battlefield. That too has proved a total failure as is attested by the collapse of the much-touted Ukrainian counter-offensive.
Now, the last weapon of the imperialist West against Russia is to cause internal dissension in an effort to bring down the government headed by Vladimir Putin, the target of their visceral hatred as he has helped to put Russia on its feet after the shambles it had been reduced to under the notorious drunkard, Boris Yeltsin. He has managed to thwart the imperialist attempts at regime change in Syria and Kazakhstan; under his leadership Russia has formed close and friendly relations with the People’s Republic of China. Everywhere imperialism finds its path to the unbridled looting of other countries hindered by the PRC and the Russian Federation. No wonder Vladimir Putin and China’s leader Xi Jinping have become the targets of the imperialist non-stop campaign of malicious propaganda and blatant lies.
But their hopes of regime change in Russia through internal dissension and military rebellion have met the same fate as the economic sanctions and military support for its Nazi Ukrainian flunkeys. If the purpose of Prigozhin’s treacherous mutiny was to achieve the downfall of the Putin regime, it has failed miserably. No political leaders, no leaders of Russian military units, no leaders of business, rallied to Prigozhin’s cause. It was clear that Russian society was solidly behind Putin, and supportive of his goal of crushing this insurrection using all means necessary. The Chechen Akhmet army was ready to move against Prigozhin and his few thousand combatants who had been deceived into taking part in his criminal enterprise, informing Prigozhin that if he did not surrender he would be killed and his followers defeated and disarmed.
This is what brought Prigozhin to his senses, forcing him to halt his march on Moscow and tell his fighters to go back. The mutiny, on which imperialism had placed hope to rescue its proxy war against Russia and which had aroused such excitement in the imperialist camp, ended farcically within 23 hours, dashing in the process all imperialist hopes and prayers.
Prigozhin and the few thousand who followed him and who, in view of their robust performance in Bakhmut, were quite rightly viewed by the Russian people as heroes, through their treachery and seeking to stick a knife in Russia’s back at a time of great peril to the survival of the country, overnight turned themselves into traitors. Prigozhin metamorphosed within less than a day from hero to zero.
If money was the major motive behind Prigozhin’s adventurist and foolish act of treachery, he stands to lose it all in the aftermath of his failed insurrection. His Wagner group had a contract with the Ministry of Defence for $940m for its operation in Ukraine. In addition, there was a separate deal to the tune of $900,000 for food supply to the Russian army using Prigozhin’s catering company. The Special Military Operation had for Prigozhin been very profitable indeed. Wagner’s contract with the Ministry of Defence expired on 1 May of this year. If desperation to keep money flowing into his bank account was one of the reasons for Prigozhin embarking on armed rebellion, the failure of that rebellion has put paid to the source of his revenue.
According to US intelligence, in February 2023 Prigozhin and the Ukrainian intelligence service began communicating directly with each other. Ukrainian intelligence apparently played on Prigozhin’s paranoia and frustration. The fear, and impact, of losing $2bn worth of contracts led him to enter into a life-and-death struggle with Generals Shoigu and Gerasimov.
The fighting in Bakhmut concluded on 20 May 2023. The CIA briefed the Biden administration on the existence of the plot, as did MI6 the British Prime Minister.
Following the collapse of the mutiny, the Western press was filled with articles asserting that the short-lived mutiny has weakened President Putin’s grip on power. This is wishful thinking such as has characterised the imperialist mindset through all stages of the conflict in Ukraine. As a matter of fact, Mr Putin has emerged from this act of treachery stronger than ever, with the overwhelming majority of the Russian population solidly behind him and his government. The fighting in Ukraine is going well for the Russian armed forces; and internationally the support for Russia has not waned one whit. Instead of bringing Putin’s government down, many imperialist governments stand a good chance of themselves being brought down by electorates fed up with the cost of living crisis, perpetual austerity and deteriorating living standards that stand alongside their governments pumping billions into an unjust and unwinnable war in Ukraine. Britain has already gone through 5 Prime Ministers in 7 years; Scholtz faces a similar prospect as does Macron.
Meanwhile we learn that Prigozhin has left Russia for asylum in Belarus. How long he will be allowed to stay there, or if he will be allowed to return to Russia and under what conditions, we do not know. The coming days will bring much more to light than is currently known. We can only await unfolding reality, though its contours are already clear.