As many, including myself, concluded, Prigozhin was dead a man walking as soon as he agreed the deal brokered by Lukashenko to call off his Wagner troops from their march on Moscow in June. Putin is a mafia boss - his rule based on fear - he simply could not allow Prigozhin to get away with such disloyalty.

I think most people were just surprised back in June that Prigozhin fell for the deal reached with characters such as Lukashenko and Putin and he actually thought he could live. Prigozhin’s only hope when starting the mutiny in March was to finish it.

For Putin killing Prigozhin shows to Russia and the world that no one messes with him - he has a track record of taking out anyone trying who he views as traitors, including Prigozhin but also Litvinenko and Skrypal. He would also conclude that, while the mutiny had shown his own weakness, that he is back. That said, the fact it took him nigh on two months to position himself to be able to take Prigozhin out does still show how weak his position was back in June.

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His utter brutality was again laid bare here in his decision not only to kill Prigozhin but the other nine passengers on the plane - true, the passengers were all Prigozhin loyalists, but the pilots and air stewardess? And by taking down a plane in midair, Putin showed zero respect for potential civilian casualties on the ground. Surely a targeted poisoning would have been as effective - that said the Novichok poisonings of Skyrpal and Navalny and even the Litvinenko radioactive attacks showed zero concern for collateral damage which could have been enormous.

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But Putin wanted a big show - to reveal to the world, almost terminator style, “I am back”.

A few questions for me in all this though. I don’t doubt here that Prigozhin is dead - no Elvis lives style conspiracies. But…

First, the timing was weird, coming on the heels of the BRICS summit. Now maybe Xi would be impressed by Putin’s actions in shooting down a rival in midair - Xi seems to do political assassinations at party conferences. But what about leaders of democracies like Ramaphosa, Modi and Lula?

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As Putin and Xi are trying to expand BRICS will this murder just make them think twice about getting into bed with a character like Putin. Do they really want this? Not only is Putin a fascist, war criminal, but he has now been clearly revealed as a murderer and mafia boss.

Second, Putin might feel secure, but I assume there are still plenty of Prigozhin loyalists in Wagner and bad guys amongst all those criminals he hired to its ranks to fight in Ukraine. Surely some of them might feel the need to take revenge on Putin - and many appear very capable. Not sure that mafia style, remaining Wagnerites just end up kissing Putin’s ring.

I assume Putin will try taking as many Wagnerites as possible out - those loyalists to Prigozhin in Belarus must be very nervous. Indeed, there are reports today of Belarus security forces preventing them from leaving. Perhaps the Lukashenko deal was all about identifying and separating Prigozhin loyalists for them to be easily “dealt with” later.

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Third, what about Wagner operations in Africa which appeared to secure more leverage in recent weeks with the coup in Niger? Indeed, Prigozhin himself appeared to think that his activities in Africa had given him a golden ticket back into Putin’s trusted circle. I assume Putin has used the last few months to recce Wagner operations and to take these over. Wagner had become replaceable.

I assume we will see another, or other, leaders of Russian backed mercenary groups emerge to replace Prigozhin and Wagner to the same effect. And that effect is securing proxy allies in the region which can put it beyond the scope of control from the West - which means loss of critical mineral resources (uranium for France) and the potential to keep the migrant flow going to Europe, destabilizing the continent there.

Fourth, Ukraine war impact? Well, it’s a plus to see Russia on Russia infighting and the fact is that Prigozhin had supplied the best fighters to Russia for the war, and presumably this flow will suffer.

Earlier the June mutiny had created hope that Russian forces in Ukraine would mutiny and collapse. That has not been the case as hefty defenses have given Russian forces some durability against Ukraine’s on-going counterattack.

Still though, if you combine the whole Prigozhin affair since June, Russia and Putin still come out looking weaker. Ultimately that has to weigh on the Russian war effort and be good for Ukraine.

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Reprinted from @tashecon blog. See the original here.

 

The views expressed in this opinion article are the author’s and not necessarily those of Kyiv Post.

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