Eugeni Prigozhin and thirty-five officers from the Wagner Group met Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin on Thursday, June 29, that is, just five days after the attempted coup in the form of an armed march on Moscow. Putin, who had described Prigozhin’s maneuver in a televised address as a “stab in the back of the Russian people” and had compared the situation to the fall of the tsar in 1917, not only agreed to meet with the “traitor”, whom everyone considered in Belarus, but would have offered him new military projects in exchange for his absolute loyalty.
It would seem like the delusion of an enlightened chronicler, but it is the version of the Kremlin itself, explained by the mouth of its spokesman, Dimitri Peskov. A private army rebels against Putin, he allows said army to take Rostov, advance up to two hundred kilometers from Moscow and, five days later, receive its leaders to, in the words of Peskov “make an assessment of his behavior during the war and the mutiny and propose new combats and jobs”. Nothing about Lukashenko, nothing about everyone leaving for Belarus, nothing about the supposed agreement that would have stopped the coup at the last moment.
It is common for Moscow to change its official versions of events, that is, it is common for Moscow to lie. What is surprising in this case is the speed with which that change has come and how drastic the turn is. With this meeting, it becomes clear that the famous agreement with Lukashenko was nothing more than a smokescreen. Most likely, in fact, it is that Prigozhin has not set foot in Belarus since Saturday, June 24, no matter how much he claimed to the contrary.
[La escuela de guerra de la retaguardia de Bakhmut: del campo de maniobras al frente de combate]
If Wagner stopped in his advance to Moscow, it was not because of any last-minute call from Minsk and his actions are certainly not deserving of any punishment. Would Lukashenko be interested in having Prigozhin and his paramilitaries by his side? It is very unlikely. can there be ceded some of its military camps, most of the Soviet times, so that Wagner regroups waiting for news? That is already possible, but without the need to go any further. In fact, if Lukashenko knows what’s good for him, he’ll have already realized that leaning on such an unreliable guy usually doesn’t lead to anything good.
A chaos with few certainties
The feeling, again, is of absolute chaos. Each official news contradicts the previous one. Lukashenko says that Prigozhin is in Belarus, but two weeks later he rectifies and places him in Saint Petersburg. The defense ministry assures that it is trying to absorb Wagner’s military and technological organization -the FSB raids on its headquarters have been insisted on several times- and now, Peskov insinuates that they will continue to be a separate structure with the possibility of being hired by Russia when it needs it again.
[El líder de Chechenia y su ‘batallón TikTok’ buscan sustituir a Wagner tras el motín contra el Kremlin]
Honestly, it’s impossible to know what’s going on there. Putin’s show of weakness is enormous and difficult to understand. It seems that he is encouraging anyone to try to overthrow him, since the consequences are nil. Let us remember that, after demonstrating against the coup, Wagner included Putin among his targets, declaring that if the president did not understand what was happening, it was time to change the president. As much as Russia tries to ignore or sweeten what happened during those twenty-four hours, there are the newspaper archives to bring out the colors of each other.
The meeting invites one to think that this was the promise that made Prigozhin turn around. The possibility of speaking with Putin in the first person and surrounded by his officials would make him feel for a moment like The king of the world, without the need to go further and take things to the extreme. Another thing is what was discussed there, something that Peskov claims to be unaware of, even if it was a meeting in the Kremlin with the president of Russia and it was the government itself that decided to make it public two weeks later. If Prigozhin asked for the heads of Gerasimov and Shoigu once more, it is clear that Putin has not given them to him. This weekend, there was much speculation about Gerasimov’s removal, but the news was denied by Russia, which released a timely video of the military chief in charge of operations.
Surovikin pays the piper
With so many doubts about the past and the present, it is very difficult to imagine the future. It is said that the only thing Prigozhin wants is to keep his business in Africa and that for this he needs his own structure that does not depend on his great enemy Shoigu. Now, for that trip these saddlebags were not needed. Although the Ministry of Defense was bent on absorbing Wagner -and the other paramilitary groups that are fighting right now in favor of Russia- on July 1, it is very clear from what we have seen that Prigozhin could have refused and nothing would have happened. The power of it seems absolute.
In the end, it would seem that the only one paying to challenge Putin is the Russian army itself. Meanwhile, Prigozhin and his family not only stroll quietly through St. Petersburg and Moscow, but also meet with the president and exchange views and plans for the future, ‘General Armageddon’, Sergei Surovikin, whereabouts unknown, allegedly detained for his collaboration with Prigozhin. Since June 24, when he appeared in a video calling for an end to the march on Moscow, he has not been seen anywhere. Even his family had to admit that he missed his wife’s birthday and they don’t know where he is.
[Caos en el Ejército ruso, el segundo más grande del mundo: “No cobran el sueldo y deben pagar hasta por las botas”]
If his arrest and possible prosecution are confirmed, we will have to see how the other generals of the Russian armed forces react, who have had to keep quiet before the Putin’s arbitrary decision to invade Ukrainethey have received all kinds of criticism from Prigozhin himself and now they find that one of their own is going to pay the piper for the actions of their greatest enemy.
Russia has entered a path of implosion that it is not easy to know how long it will last or what consequences it will have. How will things be so that NATO is finally considering including Ukraine as a member country after years and years of rejections. How will it be for Erdogan to defy his friend Putin and hand over several ex-combatants from the Azov Battalion to kyiv. If it also lifts the veto on Sweden, Russia’s historical enemy, for its entry into the Atlantic Alliance, we would truly be at the end of an era.