‘Putin is done’

Sociologist and economist Vladislav Inozemtsev sums up the results of Prigozhin’s aborted rebellion

‘Putin is done’

Wagner Group fighters in Rostov-on-Don. Photo: Novaya Gazeta Europe

The armed rebellion of “Putin’s chef” Yevgeny Prigozhin has been successfully halted: after negotiations, which, if official sources are to be believed, were brokered by Belarus’ Alyaksandar Lukashenka, the Wagner PMC has agreed not to march on Moscow. Everything is reverting to normal, as if nothing had happened.

What caused this mutiny and how is Vladimir Putin going to run the country in its aftermath? We have discussed all this and more with Vladislav Inozemtsev, sociologist and economist.

What made Prigozhin’s rebellion possible?

For too long, Putin has used negative selection and put totally incompetent and delusional people in important positions. What Prigozhin said about [Russian defence minister] Shoigu and the Ministry of Defence is true — the scale of idiocy and insanity exceeded all acceptable limits.

That is why all of Putin’s actions failed, and in comparison the Wagnerites seemed to be the most fit for combat. Attempts to stop them and bring them under Shoigu’s command in recent days inevitably provoked a painful reaction.

Prigozhin understood that [the authorities] were trying to take away his gang from him and that the next step would likely be to take his life. There was no turning back for Prigozhin, because the confrontation was escalating step by step. 

Therefore, I find that this outcome is a fairly logical one.

Who started the confrontation? Shoigu, when he demanded that the Wagnerites should be transferred under his command, or Prigozhin, when he began to demand ammunition and denounce the Ministry of Defence?

It was Prigozhin who started it, of course — a long time ago, last year. He constantly voiced his discontent with the military, the supply lines, the command and so on. After he amassed an insane number of convicts in his ranks, Prigozhin felt like he wielded an exceptional force. So he started it, there can be no doubt about that.

Then why was he allowed to do it for so long? It was going on for a year, wasn’t it?

It is Putin’s idiotic desire to use everyone against each other and at the same time not to set anyone aside. It is his attempts to not turn anyone against himself that have led to such insane consequences.

There is obviously some sort of subordination. But apparently Putin himself was unhappy with Shoigu and was trying to exploit the current tensions. Putin’s decision not to stop Prigozhin a year ago is as dumb as him starting the war with Ukraine. When you see that you are being vilified and called an old dickhead, and yet you keep quiet… I don’t know what you have to be to tolerate that.

But Putin had watched this development for a year, as Prigozhin was getting cockier and more insolent.

If they had come to their senses at least two months ago, it would have been OK. But the whole system was very ill-conceived, in my opinion. Putin claims to have special services and agents at his behest. But here he’s created a unit where he doesn’t have an agent near Prigozhin who can shoot him at any time. That’s insane. It’s unforgivably sloppy.

You think that was the mistake? Not creating Prigozhin, but failing to put a “controller” alongside him?

Of course. Yes, letting him become this big is part of the problem. But once you’re at this point, how can you not have some trusted people in his inner circle? So

that the moment he declares that he is about to march on the Kremlin, he will earn a bullet in the back of his head. This is obvious if you know anything about the secret services and aren’t just a moron.

Understanding all this, why did they [the Russian authorities] start a confrontation with Prigozhin? Why did they start demanding that he give them everything he had built?

They demanded it because things had gone too far. As far as I can see given the timeline, Prigozhin said that Bakhmut had been taken, and both Putin and Shoigu congratulated him. Then he said: that’s it, our troops are leaving, we have issues to solve in Africa, and we will not be in thrall to Shoigu. And the authorities, apparently, thought that since the Ukrainian counter-offensive is starting they must consolidate all the armed forces and finally achieve unity of command. They finally figured out that it was time to do so.

Prigozhin responded: you are nobody to us, and we are out of here. This was where decisive action was necessary. In my opinion, at that moment they should’ve got rid of Prigozhin himself instead of bombing his troops.

So the mistake was in the method? Prigozhin should have been dealt with differently?

Look, this is an army of mercenaries subordinate to one particular person. This person has political ambitions, knows the lingo, and owns a media network which propagates his opinion throughout Russia. You have to understand that if such a person prepares an insurgency, the whole problem will boil down to the physical elimination of its leader. After that, the mutiny will fall apart by itself. Imagine that the Wagnerites are advancing towards the Moscow region when they hear news that Prigozhin has been killed. Where will they go next? What for?

What’s next for Putin? Is today’s Putin the same person as on Friday afternoon?

No, today’s Putin is no longer Putin. Putin is done, yesterday was the end of him. He simply fled. Shoigu, Patrushev, and everyone else laid low and kept quiet. Prigozhin had several options. He could have reached Moscow, and then the camouflaged soldiers who were in position on highways leading into the city would have immediately surrendered to him without any order. Because it is not clear who is giving the orders. The Wagnerites would simply have reached the Kremlin.

And what then? They would have reached Moscow, looting the elites’ mansions on the way, to the delight of the Russian population. And then what?

If they had reached Moscow, Prigozhin would have had a 10-15% chance of seizing power. I don’t rule it out.

What are the system’s prospects?

Very poor. And what do you mean by the system? When Putin left the presidency in 2008 and installed Medvedev as his successor, Russia still had what can be called a “system”. There was the United Russia Party, the oligarchs, robbery and corruption, and two leaders: first Putin for eight years, then Medvedev for four years, and then someone else. That was a system. If Medvedev had gone, somebody else would have taken his place, and the theft and corruption would have continued as usual. But Putin said — to hell with the system, I’ll be in power, and the system doesn’t matter to me. And that was the end of the system.

When did Putin start this mechanism of self-destruction? At the moment when he started the war? When did he start eating his own tail?

He started eating his tail when he began arming PMC Wagner and when he allowed Prigozhin to recruit convicts. How many people did Wagner have without those convicts? 5,000-7,000 people? According to [director of the civil rights organisation Russia Behind Bars] Olga Romanova, they got 50,000 from prisons. Prigozhin himself said that almost 60,000 had gone through Wagner in a year. About 20,000 were killed, some were released.

So you think that this did not start with the war? But wouldn’t they have already lost the war were it not for PMC Wagner?

They are going to lose it now. The war is over. Sure, Putin may come back, but the war is definitely over. They are going to lose it very fast. So what is happening is very good for Ukraine.

What will happen to Russia is another question. Now, the Ukrainians need to crack the crumbling Russian defence in strategic areas very quickly and very radically.

The Russian troops now fighting in Ukraine require a huge logistical system. They need constant supplies and transport to provide them. And now, their entire rear has been wiped out in a single day. With his march on Moscow, Prigozhin cut all the chains that had been stretching for thousands of miles. I think the Ukrainians cannot help but take advantage of this situation.

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