Interesting news out of Moscow yesterday, we seem to have come to the end of the Prigozhin Saga
- April: he guesses about the summer offensive and complains about ammunition.
- May: he posts an angry video from an open grave.
- June: the Wagnerkrieg.
- June: reflecting on the Wagnerkrieg.
Since that April post included the line, "It'd be interesting to be a fly on the wall for the Yevgeny Prigozhin / Sergei Shoigu saga", I'll post on the final chapter.
A Lost ending
eulogized the Wagner mutiny with "written and directed by david benioff and d.b. weiss" because it brought Game of Thrones-tier disappointement. This one felt more like the last episode of Lost
; weird and confusing but kind of what you expected.
Specifically: why was Pringles still hanging around the lion's den?
I heard the question asked on NPR and the response was, "it's a good question". Likewise I have read nothing definitive in the news
, or comment section
If the mutiny is unfamiliar:
- In June, Russian mercenary boss Yevgeny Prigozhin and many of his well-equipped soldiers marched on a regional Russian military HQ and Moscow. In the process, the rebelling mercenaries shot down a handful of Russian aircraft.
- A stand-down was quickly negotiated by Belarusian President Lukashenko, or more likely by Putin through Lukashenko.
- Prigozhin's Wagner PMC was split: his units were given the option of relocating to the new Wagner HQ in Belarus or being conscripted by the Russian military.
- A mere month later, Prigozhin showed up to a diplomatic summit in St. Petersburg. Varying reports placed him elsewhere in Russia over the past two months.
The lack of concrete information was replaced with baneposting and conspiracy wishcasting.
So why would the Prigozhin be killed now
, after months of roaming the country he briefly upended?
Option 1: Prigozhin was just dumb
I doubt it, but I'll toss this one out there because it's the default story
. Prigozhin was a prisoner and a caterer before he was a billionaire PMC executive, maybe he's an idiot who has been propped up by Putin's favor, money, and guys with AKs. Maybe he thought he could get away with the mutiny and was swayed by Putin's guarantees of safety.
PMC work, war-torn nations, prisoner conscripts, Russian politics... Prigozhin has managed to navigate some pretty treacherous waters. I can't imagine he'd have lasted this long but suddenly become oblivious to his own peril
after directly challenging the Kremlin. And it's not like Putin's modus operandi is foreign to him.
Option 2: Prigozhin was on negotiated death row
The exact opposite of "Prigozhin didn't see this coming" is "Prigozhin agreed to this". Perhaps the Kremlin had an ace in the hole during the negotiated end to the mutiny, e.g. physical access to Prigozhin's wife and children. The last two months may have been about relocating Prigozhin's family in exchange for his voluntary ride into the sunset
. A quick news search didn't reveal any public statements from Lyubov Prigozhina, but if they remain in St. Petersburg I think we can call this idea a bust.
Option 3: He overestimated his kompromat
I wonder if Prighozin had some sort of poison pill in place in case of his death. You think he would have to be a moron not to. Perhaps we'll see a whole bunch of leaked documents released this week or something
As Bedrock mentions, Prigozhin presumably had a trove of documentation on activities his PMC has executed on Moscow's behalf
. While the Kremlin wouldn't write a purchase order for 'one deposed Congolese president', even personal notes or ambiguous payments could be sufficiently convincing.
On March 19, a group of gunmen stormed a remote gold mine far away from Bangui and killed nine Chinese workers.
The Central African government has said that it investigated the massacre and concluded that a leading rebel group had orchestrated it. The rebels have denied the allegation and blamed a third party that operates in the country - Russia's Wagner mercenary group, which has in turn accused the rebels. None of the sides has presented evidence for its claims.
"Wagner and China have the same exploitative interest in Africa, but Wagner thrives in chaos, while China needs stability," Mr. Arduino said.
And the potential blowback wouldn't be limited to the contintent Wagner mainly operated in. China and India are trade lifelines for the heavily-sanctioned Russian Federation.
The Kremlin wouldn't take a leakage of shared state secrets lightly.
So maybe Wagner didn't do anything especially damaging to Russia's diplomatic reputation
. Or perhaps the Kremlin decided it was the lesser of two evils. We'll know by next week, maybe.
Option 4: "They are expecting one of us to be amongst the wreckage, brother"
There has been no lack of conspiracyposting about Prigozhin's pre-flight whereabouts and and/or his second plane. It seems unlikely that he would fake his own death inside Russia and hope to get away with it. The Hollywood twist would be that a staged execution was part of the stand-down agreement
, a way for Prigozhin to exit with Putin saving face. It just doesn't seem like the kind of thing you can expect to keep under wraps.
Wagner coup 2.0?
No. Wagnerites were given the options of conscription or relocation to Belarus. They're not marching, decimated and leaderless, through Belarus and Russia.
Barring The Wagner Papers
or news about Prigozhin's family, I think this saga has ended as intended.
Both New Yorker
published in-depth articles about Prigozhin before his death. It seems he spent the two months between the mutiny and Wednesday trying to reassert Wagner's position as Africa's go-to PMC
amidst a Russian MoD effort to take his clients. I'm not sure this sheds any light on the questions above, but his busy travel schedule may explain the two month delay.