August 25, 2023

Yevgeny Prigozhin

“Russian President Vladimir Putin sent his condolences to the family of Yevgeny Prigozhin on Thursday, breaking his silence after the mercenary leader's plane crashed with no survivors two months after he led a mutiny against army chiefs.” Reuters

Both sides believe that Putin is responsible for the crash, and argue that it will ultimately weaken his regime:

“Rooting out a conspiracy takes time; so does planning a murder. The initial deal between the Kremlin and Prigozhin, brokered by Belarusian President (and Putin crony) Aleksandr Lukashenko, allowed Prigozhin and his men to leave Russia and take shelter in Belarus. But because of that deal, Putin couldn’t kill Prigozhin in Belarus without making a fool of Lukashenko…

“Likewise, although Prigozhin traveled in dangerous areas—yesterday, he released a video of himself in which he claimed to be in the Sahel—killing him far from home in a place such as Africa might have left some doubt about how he died, or whether he died at all…

“As Ian Fleming’s villain Goldfinger warned James Bond: Once is happenstance; twice is coincidence; three times is enemy action. It’s possible that Prigozhin’s jet suffered a random mishap. It’s possible that the mishap took place exactly two months to the day after Prigozhin’s mutiny. It’s possible that the head of Russia’s air force was relieved at the same time that all this took place. But that’s a hell of a lot of coincidences.”

Tom Nichols, The Atlantic

“What’s striking about Prigozhin’s apparent demise is that it lacked any of the ambiguity that normally accompanies the removal of those who run afoul of Putin. Commentators have sardonically referred to ‘Sudden Russian Death Syndrome,’ when senior Russian officials and business executives mysteriously fall out of windows or commit ‘suicide’ or simply die with no cause given — a trend that has only increased since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine…

“But when it comes to Prigozhin, there should be little doubt about what happened: He was almost certainly executed as surely as if he had been shot by a firing squad in Red Square. That is how you hold on to power when you rule a gangster state… The most fitting epitaph for Wagner Group founder Yevgeniy Prigozhin was delivered by the shotgun-wielding hit man Omar Little on ‘The Wire’: ‘You come at the king, you best not miss.’”

Max Boot, Washington Post

“The Russian elites are likely to see this as evidence not that Putin is strong but that he is increasingly and murderously erratic. That he flip-flopped so quickly from lambasting Prigozhin as a traitor to inviting him to his recent Africa summit to murdering him will do nothing to calm nerves about Putin’s state of mind and grip on the system…

“The mark of a well-organised authoritarianism is that the regime does not need so openly to kill insiders, because they are deterred from breaking the rules of the system in the first place. Putin’s greatest threats are likely to come not from the streets, let alone the remnants of the liberal opposition, but from a pragmatic elite that is constantly weighing the dangers of living under [him] against those of not doing so… They may well be getting closer to the point at which they consider themselves his hostages rather than his supporters.”

Mark Galeotti, Spectator World

“Many advisers learn that the best survival strategy when working for a ruthless autocrat is to be a bobblehead. Putin, in one of the biggest blunders in modern history, listened to the bobbleheads who told him he’d capture Kyiv in a few days. That venture has blown up in his face. But when a dictator assassinates a senior official and not just journalists, opposition candidates, and dissidents, well, then the fear impulse goes into overdrive…

“None of this is to say that Putin’s murderous regime is now in its death throes. But once the long-term costs of today’s apparent assassination have been accounted for, the late Yevgeny Prigozhin may yet have the last laugh from beyond the grave.”

Brian Klaas, The Atlantic

“Prigozhin’s message to Russians was that the war wasn’t worth the terrible cost the nation was paying in blood and treasure. He underlined that by questioning the leadership of Putin’s team and, implicitly, of Putin himself. The Ukraine war was based on a lie, Prigozhin said on June 23, the day before his militia’s march on Moscow. ‘There was nothing extraordinary happening on the eve of February 24,’ the day last year when Russian attacked…

“‘The oligarchic clan that rules Russia needed the war,’ he said. ‘The mentally ill scumbags decided: ‘It’s okay, we’ll throw in a few thousand more Russian men as cannon fodder. They’ll die under artillery fire, but we’ll get what we want.’’ This visceral critique will outlive Prigozhin, and if Ukraine and its Western allies can continue the fight into next year, it might grow more intense. Prigozhin is not a martyr so much as a warning.”

David Ignatius, Washington Post

“Prigozhin’s demise reveals the brutal politics that now controls Russia. Too many in the West, including on the American left and right, imagine that Mr. Putin can be shamed or appeased into backing away from his ambitions to reconstitute a Greater Russian empire. This underestimates his motivating ideology and ruthlessness. He will kill anyone who stands in his way at home, and he’ll do the same abroad—in Ukraine, Poland, or anywhere else, if he believes he can get away with it.”

Editorial Board, Wall Street Journal

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