Aleksandr Podrabinek: The Wagner Mutiny – a Halfway Revolt

24 June 2023

By Aleksandr Podrabinek

 Source: Radio Svoboda

About 400 years ago, the English poet John Harington wrote, “Treason doth never prosper, what’s the reason? For if it prosper, none dare call it Treason.” Today, therefore, it is entirely appropriate to speak of an attempted military revolt in Russia, and what happens tomorrow, we shall see. Events unfolded swiftly but predictably. The Wagner private military company [PMC] cultivated by the Kremlin for its dirty deeds got out of hand. The company’s leader, Evgeny Prigozhin, says he has 25,000 fighters. Most of them are mercenaries—war-loving adventure seekers. The army also includes quite a few prisoners hired for the war.

On Saturday, 24 June, Wagner men already controlled Rostov-on-Don and, evidently, Voronezh, while a column of approximately 400 military vehicles was moving toward Moscow. On Saturday evening, they were already 200 kilometers from the capital, but they halted and turned back. As has been reported, acting as intermediary between Prigozhin and Vladimir Putin was Belarussian dictator Aleksandr Lukashenko. Evidently, Prigozhin received guarantees of safety for his army and himself personally. He himself attributed the revolt to the federal regime’s intention to disband the Wagner PMC.

One can only guess what lies hidden behind this whole story. Prigozhin has to be backed by high-placed Moscow politicians; otherwise he wouldn’t have been given the resources he now possesses. The intrigue is whether he is now continuing to be run by the people who created him or has gone rogue. The situation has been defused but not resolved completely. The Wagner PMC has retreated but retains its military capability and continues to present a threat to the federal regime. Kremlin courtiers will still probably have to choose which side to take. This will scarcely be a morally difficult choice for them; all they care about is guessing correctly and changing masters in time.

True, some in Moscow believe that this is a revolt in quotes, that it was all played out according to a preset scenario. That’s possible but unlikely. The conspirological consciousness engendered by the shortage of accurate information, the closed nature of the regime, and society’s decades of alienation from politics easily accepts the idea that it was all thought through, set up, and predetermined in advance. Putin has no obvious motives for acting out that kind of performance. People say that this way he can improve his popularity on the eve of the upcoming elections. But they forget that under strict authoritarianism he has no need at all of popularity, and we haven’t had elections for a very long time, just the pretence of them.

The fact that the regime took the threats seriously is attested to by the immediate flight to other countries of the planes of oligarchs and highly placed officials. Whether they flew empty or with passengers is still unclear. Military equipment on the streets, the declared emergency, and the erection of defensive fortifications at the entrances to Moscow also speak to the gravity of the events, their very real nature.

Overall, the situation in Moscow is calm. As usual, the people are silent. And truth be told, why should they shout, get excited, or take anyone’s side? Ordinary people don’t take part in gang wars. Yet again, the spiders in the jar are fighting to the death, and this time, apparently, quite seriously, prepared to spill blood. Sensible people have no reason whatsoever to support either side. A plague on both your houses! It is for this reason that Russia is not now threatened by civil war. There aren’t enough people in the country gripped by an idea they wouldn’t mind giving their life for. No one is going to fight voluntarily for other people’s business interests except for the “dogs of war” and prisoners buying themselves a pardon. So that the revolt will either remain that, a failed revolt, or else it will be a successful military coup but not turn into a civil war. Most people have entirely different interests.

The Kremlin is hardly going to draw the proper conclusions for itself from these events. Actually, there is one main conclusion: irremovability of power leads to the country’s destabilization and the degradation of state institutions. Until power starts being transferred into other hands by normal—law-based and democratic—means, people will definitely show up prepared to achieve political success by military force or criminal methods. That is, they will get what they want using the same instruments used by the regime itself.

Translated by Marian Schwartz

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