The idea that Yevgeny Prigozhin posed a plausible – or even desirable – alternative to Russia’s President Vladimir Putin was always ludicrous. Prigozhin was catapulted high and fast by his willingness to fund and lead the Wagner Group of mercenaries which proved highly useful to the Russian government in the ferocious, long-drawn-out fighting over recent months in the city of Bakhmut.
The Russian government had watched the increasing use of mercenary units by the US government and armed forces over the past quarter century in Iraq and Afghanistan. Then-Vice President Dick Cheney was an especial enthusiast and architect of this always risky policy.
Mercenary units can be used for potential heavy casualty or ferocious down and dirty fighting as welcome alternatives to regular units precisely because they are not subject to congressional or media review in the West and because they are outside and insulated from the regular military chains of command and procedures: So they do not therefore risk contaminating the real army from within by their ruthless or unorthodox behavior in combat.
Also, if mercenary units suffer higher casualties than regular units, the political impact is negligible compared with heavy losses from a largely or partially conscript force such as the Russian army.
Over the past 20 years, there have been a chain of witless and of course false claims and prophecies by tame US and NATO sociologist “advisers,” especially the late Gunnar Heinsohn, a fawned upon lecturer at the NATO Defense College in Rome, that Russia was demographically incapable of launching any large scale sustained military operation or sustaining and winning any prolonged war because no government could survive the heavy casualties among ordinary families that would be inevitable.
The answers to those ridiculous assertions are now clear from the past year and a half’s fighting in Ukraine. Like Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery’s 21st Army Group in Western Europe in 1944-45, Chief of the General Staff General Valery Gerasimov’s regular Russian Army forces compensated wisely by using firepower rather than the needless sacrifice of their soldiers’ lives.
By contrast, US Army Generals George S. Patton and Courtney Hodges were prodigal in the casualties they sustained implementing General Dwight Eisenhower’s witless “broad front” strategy in the winter of 1944-45. (Field Marshal Alan Brooke, Britain’s exceptionally capable Chief of the Imperial General Staff at the time, correctly predicted Eisenhower’s ultra-cautious broad front advance would needlessly lengthen the war in the West by six months).
Prigozhin’s Wagner group was therefore a useful tool to the Russian government and armed forces leadership when the United States and NATO cynically and mercilessly propelled the Ukrainian people into an unwinnable high stakes war in resisting the originally highly limited Russian incursions in February 2022 to end eight years of Neo-Nazi, Western-backed terrorist attacks against the Russian-speaking secessionist provinces of Luhansk and Donetsk that had cost 14,000 lives according to official United Nations figures.
Proportionately that was 14 times as high a casualty rate as Israel suffered in the Second Palestinian intifada from 2001 to 2006. And Israel inflicted four to five times that death toll on the Palestinian population in retaliation without suffering any of the obloquy and hatred that has been poured on Russia.
In these columns I predicted from the beginning that Prigozhin’s much ballyhooed “coup” would fail, that it would attract zero popular support in Russia or in the armed forces and that he would not live long after it.
The relatively slow response when Prigozhin launched his ridiculous “March on Moscow” was because of astonishment that any such misadventure could even be contemplated. Then Prigozhin’s forces shot down planes of their own country’s air force. That would be a capital offense in any country.
Prigozhin had no background or base in Russia’s political system, armed forces or security services. He had been President Putin’s chef and then a successful oligarch as long as he operated loyally and efficiently within the national political and economic system. Then, finally he was the energetic and useful organizer of supplemental mercenary forces. And that was that.
Prigozhin was not used to the intense strains that command and responsibility for leading military forces in battle who have to sustain significant casualties invariably brings. He had no prior experience of that, and he had never risen through any command structure where officers are advised and prepared to try and carry such burdens. So, he cracked. And he listened to Western siren voices in his ears telling him he could succeed where Don Quixote failed and charge what he thought were harmless windmills with impunity. As the world saw, that did not happen.
The usual revered prognosticators from the New York Times to the fatuous, fawning think tanks in Britain – now pathetically reduced to serving as America’s Airstrip One – claimed Russia was about to disintegrate. None of them will be held to account as usual.
US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan appears to have known Prigozhin’s “rebellion” was coming and even expected it to succeed.
How else to explain his conviction, as reported by the always reliable Seymour Hersh, citing US intelligence sources, that Sullivan was convinced the inconsequential “peace summit” that he had rashly convened in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia would be a New Versailles Peace Conference presiding over the fall of President Putin, the collapse of the Russian government and the disintegration of Russia.
There is no possibility that such incredible stupidity, ignorance and incompetence will be exposed and rooted out either.
I have no hesitation therefore in making another Politically Incorrect prediction: There will be no popular protests or national grieving across all of Russia’s 12 time zones (the continental United States only has four) over Prigozhin’s passing.
Prigozhin, like Icarus in the Greek legend, thought he could ascend to the heavens. Instead, he died exactly the same way Icarus did when his wax wings melted, and he fell from the sky. He’s over. Let him go.
Reprinted with the author’s permission from NewKontinentUSA.
Martin Sieff is the former Chief Foreign Correspondent of The Washington Times and former Managing Editor, International Affairs and Chief News Analyst for United Press International. He has received three Pulitzer Prize nominations for International Reporting and so far has published seven books on current affairs and history. Sieff is currently a senior fellow at the American University in Moscow and has been for more than a decade a regular op-ed contributor to the China Daily, one the largest circulation news platforms and newspapers in the world.. He is the author of several books.