Streetwise Professor

June 24, 2023

The Wagner Putsch: Kornilov Redux or Something More Threatening?

Filed under: History,Military,Politics,Russia — cpirrong @ 1:30 pm

The news of the day is that Yevgeny Prigozhin has reversed direction, and instead of attacking Ukraine has occupied Rostov-on-the-Don and Veronehz, and has advanced some distance into the Moscow Oblast in an attempted putsch. As in all things Russian, good information is hard to come by–and the Russian authorities are doing their best to shut down all non-official “information” sources.

Prigozhin launched a broadside against Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and the military chief of staff Valery Gerasimov. In a version of the old “the tsar doesn’t know and is being misled by bad boyars” trope, Progozhin claims that this pair of mouth breathers deceived Putin about the need for an invasion of Ukraine and the ease of accomplishing it, and continue to deceive him by downplaying casualty figure. This is a transparent attempt to claim–incredibly–that this action is directed against Putin. Since Putin is the only man who matters, any challenge to the state is a challenge to Putin.

There are reports of combat between Prigozhin’s Wagner forces and the Russian military, with the former claiming to have shot down several military helicopters and at least one SU-34. There are also reports that some Russian military and national guard forces have thrown in with Wagner, or stood aside.

Some analysts claim that Wagner represents a real military threat to Putin. The conventional wisdom is that it does not: on the BBC Mark Galeotti claimed that Wagner has only 10,000 men at his disposal. But information is scarce, everything is in flux, and there is always the prospect that enough military and security force commanders are so disenchanted with the Ukraine fiasco that they will start supporting Wagner, or refuse orders to attack it, or block other units from doing so.

The most recent reports, from less than reliable sources (such as the Belarussian administration), are that Prigozhin has agreed to return to barracks. Which would be suicidal unless he has some sort of ironclad deal.

The fact is that the die is cast. Prigozhin made his choice and he must win or die. Any pause will be a tactical one.

My conjecture is that Prigozhin has known for some time that Shoigu and Gerasimov and the rest of the establishment intend to eliminate him and Wagner with extreme prejudice. The “sign a contract or else” ultimatum was just setting up the legal justifications for such an action.

Given that, Prigozhin was desperate, and had to throw the dice. He had nothing to lose.

The uncertainties in a situation like this make prediction perilous. If I had to guess, I wold say that this will play out something like the pathetic Kornilov Affair in 1917, when the eponymous general marched on the capital (then St. Petersburg) in an attempted coup against the Kerensky government. (Though some claim that Kerensky was part of the plot–and not surprisingly I have seen some claim that Putin is actually in cahoots with Prigozhin.) The coup attempt collapsed within 3 days.

But you never know.

As for Putin, this morning he gave a fiery speech denouncing the putsch and promising that it would be crushed. In so doing, Vova treated us to some of his Fractured Fairy Tale history:

A blow like this was dealt to Russia in 1917, when the country was fighting in World War I. But the victory was stolen from it: intrigues, squabbles and politicking behind the backs of the army and the nation turned into the greatest turmoil, the destruction of the army and the collapse of the state, and the loss of vast territories, ultimately leading to the tragedy of the civil war.

For one thing, Russia was hardly on the verge of victory in 1917. In fact, its army was teetering on the edge of collapse–and at times did collapse. Widespread desertion and mutiny contributed to the crisis that culminated in the abdication of Nicholas II. After something of a recovery following the February Revolution, the collapse of the military resumed after the utter failure of the Kerensky Offensive. And vast territories had already been lost by 1917.

For another thing. Wait, whut? The Putin I know lamented the fall of the USSR as the greatest geopolitical tragedy of the 20th century. This Putin–is he an imposter?–is lamenting the revolution that resulted in the creation of the USSR. Just another illustration, I guess, that to Putin history is purely instrumental, meant to be distorted to meet the needs of the political moment.

Although who will win in Russia is in doubt, there is no doubt that the biggest winner here is Ukraine. Chaos at the top will distract the Russian military leadership from managing operations in Ukraine. If the Wagner threat persists Putin will have to divert units from fighting Ukrainians to fight Russians.

Regardless of how this plays out, it is a clear sign that all is not well in Putin’s Russia. In fact, things are quite bad. Some natives are restless–and with good cause. Meaning that Putin is confronted with a war on two fronts, precisely when experience has shown that he is incapable of handling just one.

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  1. I am in blood now waded in so far
    Returning would be as tedious as go over.

    So what – given that no “deal” will be honoured – persuaded Prigovzhin to retreat?
    Some substantial safety guarantee, like command of the regular army in Donbas as well as his own mercenaries?

    Note to self. Look up Rubicon in Roman history.

    Comment by philip — June 24, 2023 @ 2:43 pm

  2. Pure speculation.
    If Wagner troops were on the brink of mutiny Prizgovin may have thought he might as well lead it. What that says about morale in the regular army can be conjectured.
    Reports say he has agreed to retire, to a nice comfy dacha in Belarus. For about five minutes before falling out of a ground floor window? He’s a nasty piece of work but he’s not an idiot.

    Comment by philip — June 24, 2023 @ 4:16 pm

  3. Opera buffo

    Comment by Sotosy1 — June 24, 2023 @ 7:06 pm

  4. What surprises me the most – following the disastrously botched ‘March on Kiev’, the puzzling conduct of the war and underperformance of the military, and now a coup happening within the, let’s say, ‘circle of Boyars’, is how poorly the intelligence ‘apparat’ has performed and is performing.

    Russia has long been a country/state in which not even a sparrow can break wind without the intelligence services knowing about it. The spooks have been operating aggressively, both inside and outside Rasha for over a century – particularly the GRU, known everywhere for the aggression of its attacks! – and have every incentive and resource that they need to learn everything that they need to know.

    And yet the Kremlin had NFI about the morale and capabilities of the Ukrainians, with whom they’d been engaged at a heightened level for about eight years before the invasion, and now they had no idea about the planning of a guy who went out of his way to mouth off multiple times about the armchair generals in Moscva?

    I recently re-read Suvorov’s ‘Icebreaker’. Chapter 30 lists the names of all of the heads of the GRU that Stalin purged in the thirties. He fried them like a psycho kid frying ants with a magnifying glass. Zero sentimentality, just ‘get lost, get another one in’. Hard to believe that a service with that sort of institutional history burned into it would perform so poorly, and continue to perform so poorly. A real failure there, right at the top.

    @Sotosy – thanks for your comments on the previous thread.

    Comment by Ex-Global Super-Regulator on Lunch Break — June 24, 2023 @ 8:24 pm

  5. “The fact is that the die is cast. Prigozhin made his choice and he must win or die.”

    That’s not a fact, that’s a conjecture. One that is not consistent with the “a few bad boyars are misleading the good czar” narrative. You don’t go to exile into a country under de facto Russian occupation when even exile in London is not particularly safe. Unless you have nothing to fear from Putin, that is.

    It’s not like a few downed helos is a high price to pay for a high quality production aimed at e.g. showing any hesitant elites in Moscow the boss is.

    Comment by Ivan — June 24, 2023 @ 9:22 pm

  6. that’s “who the boss is”

    Comment by Ivan — June 24, 2023 @ 9:25 pm

  7. A conspiracy theorist might speculate that the whole thing was a put up job so that other anti-Putinistas would show their hands and could then be dealt with.

    Comment by dearieme — June 25, 2023 @ 6:43 am

  8. SWP:

    U know this. And all of ur readers also know. Ask any Russian about this 24 non-event (EXCEPT in Western #MSM – Reuters excluded) & U w get a shrug as they turn away, after politely listening to ur query, “That’s Russia.”

    Vlad has been waiting for ur analysis, and the comments of ur VERY experienced readers.

    B well, Folks. Kindest Regards to LL.

    VP VVP

    Comment by Vlad VP — June 25, 2023 @ 7:26 pm

  9. @dearieme
    Et tu, Brute
    The trouble with flushing out traitors is that they might turn out to be more numerous than they themselves knew.
    A simple explanation, that the mutineers lost their nerve, seems more apt.

    Comment by philip — June 26, 2023 @ 1:44 am

  10. Allow me to put on my tin foil hat and spew conspiracy theory after conspiracy theory:

    1. Wagner is a mercenary. Hence, he fights for money, not cause. Perhaps the CIA decided to offer him more money. Once that was figured out, Putin using Belarus (to make them appear credible) offered even more money and Wagner called off the dogs.
    2. Why would the CIA do this?? Because of Hunter Biden and the heat being brought to the Presidency as the scandal they created gets uncovered piece by piece. They needed to look like they were winning the war in Ukraine so Joe could look good.

    I hate being so cynical, but it pays to be hyper cynical in these times.

    Comment by Jeff Carter (@pointsnfigures1) — June 26, 2023 @ 8:01 am

  11. UK press has been speculating that Putin threatened Prigozhin’s family.

    Putin murders people who challenge or annoy him, and their families. So while I don’t know what the direct evidence for this is, it sure sounds possible.

    Comment by Green as Grass — June 26, 2023 @ 8:33 am

  12. Shorter Jeff Carter, “I try to be cynical, but it’s hard to keep up.” Nothing is impossible, it seems difficult to believe such a scenario and attributes cunning not usually seen in the CIA and WH, but who knows today.

    Comment by The Pilot — June 26, 2023 @ 8:57 am

  13. “Putin threatened Prigozhin’s family.” If Prigozhin left his family in harm’s way while he was attempting a coup he must be insane, cretinous, or drunk.

    Conjuring tricks work by the conjuror distracting your attention, do they not?

    I saw a newspaper at the dentist’s this morning. A journalist explained that what happened was not really an attempt at a coup. Yet the same paper claimed a while back that the events of January 6th were exactly that. Funny old world, eh?

    Comment by dearieme — June 26, 2023 @ 9:41 am

  14. @ Jeff Carter: The Russians have some experience of desperate, losing enemies throwing filthy lucre at mercenary characters in order to turn the tables.

    Back in 1904, the Japanese were besieging the Russians at Port Arthur. The Russians were well defended within the forts they had constructed, and each fruitless assault on the defences was costing the Japanese thousands of young men. After a little while the stench arising from the thousands of unrecoverable Japanese corpses lying in the barbed-wired minefields was almost overwhelming for the defenders.

    The Japanese became desperate, especially as the Russians’ Baltic fleet steamed into the China Sea. The rumour is that, at this point, the chief of the Japanese army attempted to bribe three Russian officers with a promissory note for $65 million, payable in eleven years, and that at least one of the officers provided in return a map of a route through the land mines which defended the forts. By the end of 1904 the Nisshoki was flying above the highest point of Port Arthur, and the Russian position was hopeless.

    You can probably guess what happened to the holders of the promissory notes. You can find the whole story in Bergamini’s magnificent ‘Japan’s Imperial Conspiracy’.

    So, is it possible that a desperate enemy, facing if not loss then at least costly stalemate, tried to bribe their way out of a Russian killbox? Yeah it’s possible. Is it likely? Dunno. Would the Russians be aware of it? If they had read their history, most likely. And I bet they’ve read their history.

    Comment by Ex-Global Super-Regulator on Lunch Break — June 26, 2023 @ 11:36 pm

  15. @Jeff Carter

    1. Wagner is a mercenary. Hence, he fights for money, not cause.

    Prigozhin, on the other hand, is no mercenary but one of the top members of the mafia that can unaccountably loot from a vast territory. Far more likely he bought CIA than the other way around. Things in Muscovy are normally not what they are called, it ain’t no Federation, and not particularly Russian either.

    Comment by Ivan — June 27, 2023 @ 10:42 am

  16. @ dearieme

    Skripal probably thought he was out of harm’s way in Salisbury, but Putin’s poisoners got to him there just the same. I am not sure there is any place of safety from a genuine rogue state.

    I still see this Russia-Ukraine thing as likely to last ten years or so. Someone offing Putin won’t necessarily end it, because whoever did so would likely be just as psychotic themselves. So we could get a new regime which is substantially the same as the old regime.

    If I had to guess at an external event that would shorten that timeline, it would be a Chinese “special military operation” to re-annex the territory Russia took from China last century. China hasn’t forgotten, Russia’s forces couldn’t repel such an attack, nobody would come to Russia’s military assistance, and in the West it would be seen as somewhat de-escalatory because indicative of a diminishing threat to White China / Taiwan.

    Comment by Green as Grass — June 28, 2023 @ 7:33 am

  17. Ukraine a winner? I can’t see that at all, Selensky sold it to the Western oligarchs and if he will not get killed by the Ukrainians, he’s looking forward to living in Italy and/or Florida, I’d say.

    Wagner: did nobody see it coming, isn’t it unavoidable to deal with a mercenary armee? They are there for failed states, but you can’t have Azow B or Wagner in so- called democratic nation states, and the Europeans can be greatful for every weapon that gets destroyed by the russian armee…of course, one might argue that Ukraine is a failed state, though.

    Putsch: 9/11 was a Putsch one could say, what’s going on alongside WHO and UN is a Putch one could say, what’s going on in European states is a Putch one could say, e.g. in Germany the established parties are ruling against the will of the majority of the people. In Thuringia a local gov is still there that was elected out by the people some years ago, they forced the elected person to resign and never held the promised elections, now they elected in a local election somebody from the only alternative party and again they try to negate the result of the election. In the EU they try to abolish the possibility of blocking minorities. They are planning for further ‘health’ and ‘climate’ lockdowns and possibilities to reign without elected people. That’s all a Putsch. That Wagner must agree to serving under command of the russian state was no surprise, esp for the case of Wagner as a mercenary armee being succesful.

    Comment by Mikey — June 29, 2023 @ 8:46 am

  18. Typos: grateful…Putsch…
    Had visited my father in Germany last weekend. He’s 82, moved to an appartment next to a home for elders, has no computer, no smart phone, no alternative source of information, and he could tell me how politics in Germany is lying to people, cheating workers and pensioners, has bollocks policies and is bankrupting the country, even though the party is reigning that he had always voted for…the situation is reaching the point there, where the established parties left-middle-right together will stay below 50% of votes, but they prepare to continue without being voted…that’s a Putsch; riots to follow…

    Comment by Mikey — June 29, 2023 @ 9:45 am

  19. So somewhere across the world somebody has the balls to stage a putsch.
    When was the last time WE staged anything even resembling a putsch?
    Our . . . whatever we call them . . . are contemplating a little nuclear war that they think will be better than any alternatives for them.
    They think it will (a) cover their behinds for all the corruption they have been perpetrating and (b) they’ll be better off reining like feudal lords over the remains. Win, win, right?!!
    Is anybody staging a putsch?
    Naaaaawwwwwwwww . . .
    We are looking on, looking stupid and . . . zilch . . . . . .
    Like 2020 . . . zilch . . . . . . . . .

    Get out of bed, go to the bathroom, look in the mirror . . . I say to myself “this world is bonkers and going into the sewers” and my image answers back “it’s YOUR world . . . it’s YOUR watch . . . what are YOU doing about it?” There’s a point there.

    There seem to be no adults in charge, anywhere . . . any longer . . . . . .

    Most situations will bring at least some adults to try and fix things.

    But government attracts the worst . . . and barely human.

    Imagine an animal. Not exactly human. Just an animal.

    This animal is drawn to government.
    It has the instincts of a mixture of hyena, lizard and poisonous spider.
    But it looks humanoid and it tells lies.
    It is not really human. It is skin walking a humanity that it doesn’t posses. Not really.

    And democracy as “one oxygen breather, one vote” and you can vote by the “bag of ballots” all you want and get away with it.
    And when people want to spy on what the ballot counters are doing they block the windows. “Nothing to see here . . . plebes . . . . . .”
    And we know what they are doing.
    And we do . . . zilch . . . . . . . . . . . .

    So, this animal gets power. Government power.
    And it takes an “oath of office”
    “Constitution . . . blah, blah, blah” . . . . “I swear . . . blah, blah, blah” . . . . “so help me . . . blah, blah, blah” . . . . (Applause . . . some shouts . . .)
    It’s holding a Bible. Holy . . . holy . . . It could be holding toilet paper. Because it is a mixture of hyena, lizard and poisonous spider.

    What do we expect of it?
    The oath means nothing.
    It won’t do good for humans. We know that. We all know it.
    In fact, it will do its worst for humans.
    It sees humans as fodder, as prey.
    It despises us. It fears us. It craves us. It wants to feed on us.
    It will feed on us. It will eat us. It will eat our children. It will eat our civilization.
    If we let it. And we will let it . . . won’t we? . . . We ARE letting it . . . . We are.
    If something is good for humans this animal will not like and it won’t have it.
    If something is bad for humans this animal will do the most of it.
    It is not our friend.
    It is a terrible enemy.
    “I will honor and obey and blah, blah, blah” No, it won’t. Not in the least.
    But we give it power. Lots of it.
    And then it is in charge.
    In charge of the ship of state.
    Or in charge of any alphabet agency or big or small nook or cranny of government. They are everywhere . . .

    AINO-Venezuerica, uganda, germany, russia, ukranazistan, rwanda, north korea, yemen, what is the difference, today?

    “It’s YOUR world . . . it’s YOUR watch . . . what are YOU doing about it?” There’s a point there.
    I’m a man.
    I know what I ought to be doing about it. I know it very well. I know it so well I can feel it itching in me.

    We all do, don’t we?! . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
    It comes with the balls. Some call it “responsibility” It’s a thing. It’s there.

    It made men stand on the ramparts.
    It made men stand with stone pointed spears at the entrances of caves.
    It made men who could not afford a musket, grab an ax.

    What are we doing?

    Comment by FRONT_TOWARD_ENEMY — June 30, 2023 @ 10:53 am


    Occam’s Razor

    Comment by TCPhillips — July 2, 2023 @ 12:47 pm

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