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Prigozhin's SMO: Views from Russian media
Perspectives from across the ideological spectrum
On June 25, your correspondent compiled a colorful range of opinions (mostly poached from English-language Twitter, aka Living Hell) about Wagner’s march on Moscow.
Today we will examine a sampling of views about this puzzling event published in Russian-language media.
Sorry for stating the obvious (I need to do so for legal reasons), but this blog post is in no way an endorsement of any of the perspectives I’m about to share with you. Actually, the primary objective of this blog post is to demonstrate that, at least in Russia, there is a diverse range of views about how to interpret and understand Prigozhin’s short-lived SMO.
Military Review (pro-military hardliners)
Let’s begin with Military Review, our go-to source for SMO-related commentary. As Russia’s most popular national security news portal, it would make sense to carefully examine how this website reacted to the troubling events of June 23-24.
I spotted three op-ed dedicated to unpacking Prigozhin’s “insurrection” (maybe there are more). In chronological order:
June 27: What was it and why? Prigozhin’s ‘March of Justice’
The op-ed argued Prigozhin misjudged the amount of support he had among the Russian public: “He could not feel the difference between ‘Prigozhin is probably right about something’ and ‘Prigozhin is our leader, he can do what he wants.’”
The author also asked why the Kremlin failed to adequately address longstanding tensions between Russia’s MOD and Wagner, and conceded that the “March of Justice” appeared to discredit the theory that this rivalry was mere theater:
We do not know why the Kremlin paid little attention to resolving the conflict between the Ministry of Defense and PMCs. Perhaps it was an attempt to maintain some kind of competition for the sake of achieving greater success at the front. Until recently, I wanted to believe that this was just a game to mislead the West and the Ukrainian regime.
But in any case, this episode should teach us that if the towers of the Kremlin knock against each other uncontrollably, then the whole structure may eventually crumble.
Moscow must also adopt tighter regulations and controls for PMCs, the op-ed urged.
June 29: “Another tragic date in modern Russian history”
Two days later, Military Review wrote in a different op-ed that June 24 would be remembered as a “tragic” day for Russia—one that required careful study to ensure such events do not occur again:
There is no doubt that what happened caused significant damage to our country as a whole, as well as to specific individuals in particular - civilians, military personnel, fighters of the Wagner PMC. However, it could have ended much worse. It is necessary to carefully and carefully understand the nature of this conflict, the reasons that gave rise to it, so that this tragedy does not happen again in the future.
July 2: The so-called ‘March for Justice’ is a wakeup call for Russia
Military Review’s third op-ed argued that Prigozhin’s SMO exposed public discontent with Russia’s trajectory, as well as a clear split in the country’s elite:
Criticism of the shortcomings of the system and successes in Bakhmut raised Prigozhin’s popularity to the skies, and he felt like a “denunciator.” And many supported him and continue to sympathize. Although no one has clearly come over to his side, the facts of his deployment in Rostov and the attitude of the population and the military towards him show that there is a real problem, and this problem is recognized by the society.
Society is not satisfied with the economic course of “effective managers” who are turning the country into a raw material quarry; the people are not satisfied with the low standard of living in the country, especially for its many millions of really poor people.
Of course, you can continue to govern using “managed democracy”, but this method, like the policy of the Tsarist government, will lead the country to confusion. The authorities must have feedback from the people: they need a real, and not a “mythical” assessment of the reaction of the people to their actions. Something is not right—change is needed. The unreformability of any system is the main reason for its collapse.
The split in the elite is also serious, where the “patriotic bloc” sees the problems that the liberal pro-Western bloc, which came to prominence during the time of Boris Yeltsin, has created. And the situation in the Northern Military District—the abandonment of territories during the 2022 campaign—are pushing certain groups towards a 1917 scenario, which, in fact, the West is counting on.
Free Press (socialist)
Next up we have Free Press, an independent left-wing (socialist) outlet.
“Rebellions do not arise out of the blue. There are always reasons,” wrote one of the website’s op-ed contributors on June 25:
Prigozhin called his campaign the “March of Justice”. This is no coincidence. Justice has always been a key word for the country. The desire for justice is in our subcortex. All riots, civil wars, and rebellions that break out in Russia are because the people feel deceived and demand a just system. […]
Are we doing okay today? Of course, everyone will say the oligarchs, officials, businessmen close to the authorities—those who know exactly which doors to knock on—[are doing fine].
There is a different answer from the tens of millions of those who have been “scammed” by the authorities more than once over the past 30 years. But what can I say, it’s enough just to name one figure—by the end of 2022, the number of Russians living below the poverty line amounted to 15.3 million people, or 10.5% of the country’s population. Tens of millions more are teetering on the edge of [official] poverty.
Please note: the Wagner columns passed the south of Russia in just a day, their troops could have easily taken the entire Black Earth region. As Prigozhin himself said, his tanks had 200 kilometers to go before reaching Moscow.
They were not greeted with bread and salt, but something tells us that Muscovites, if Wagner tanks entered the city, would hardly have rushed to the barricades, because many would face the question: who or what to protect? Those who have been fattening themselves for the last ten or fifteen years?
I do not want to idealize Prigozhin, an ambiguous figure. In the end, he brought the country to the brink of civil war, but as a businessman who saddled the “theme” of justice, the leader of the PMC Wagner did well for himself.
Will the government draw lessons from “Prigozhin’s campaign against Moscow”? I would like [our country] to learn from this event, only for this, you need to shake up the deck of “the whole royal army”.
It turns out that Russia lives, as it were, in two worlds. In one world … it’s believed that the current order has been established forever, that it cannot be otherwise. In another, non-illusory world, questions and protests are piling up.
June 28: Prominent journalist and naval captain (reservist) Sergey Ischenko wrote that Prigozhin “almost pushed Russia into the abyss of civil war.”
Ischenko claimed Russian soldiers stationed at border posts and checkpoints were facing disciplinary measures for not putting up more resistance to Wagner’s march on Moscow—which, if true, makes it difficult to believe the entire event was “staged”. He also noted that Moscow was almost completely “naked”: only the 45th Special Forces Brigade stood between Wagner and the Russian capital:
From the point of view of any professional military man, there is a considerable legal conflict here. There are situations when there is no time to reason and persuade. We must act. And immediately.
Probably, this is exactly how things went [on June 24] in the helicopter regiment, which received an order, if not to stop, then at least to detain the Wagnerites on the way to Moscow, and that was the case. Now, it is very possible that military investigators will begin to explain this to the “refuseniks”, with unclear legal consequences for the perpetrators of this process.
It can be assumed that similar “debriefings” are taking place today (including with the participation of law enforcement officers) and at much higher levels of law enforcement agencies. After all, there is no escaping the question: how did it happen that a huge column of rebels, in which there were up to a thousand vehicles for various purposes (including tanks, armored vehicles, air defense systems and self-propelled artillery), without encountering any resistance on the ground, almost reached Moscow? And, according to Prigozhin himself, she was forced to stop only 200 kilometers from the capital, leaving behind Rostov-on-Don, Voronezh, Lipetsk, and Tula?
Again, citing a popular Telegram channel, he claimed that this “review” process is already underway.
June 28: The ghost of the next “March of Justice” is haunting Russia
Sergey Udaltsov offered one of the more concerning interpretations of June 24. Udaltsov is a radical leftist politician, and the head of Russia’s Left Front. (He is the great-grandson of Ivan Udaltsov, rector of Moscow State University in the 1920s, who joined the Bolshevik Party in 1905. A street in Moscow is named after this revolutionary figure.)
There are a lot of conspiracy theories about the Prigozhin rebellion and the Wagner march on Moscow. According to some theories, these events were initiated by Putin himself, who allegedly wanted to check how his entourage would behave in a critical situation. But if we examine this event more seriously, Wagner’s demarche has been brewing for a long time, and what happened was a natural result.
The rebellion did not happen in a vacuum … It must be noted that our government, outside the legal field, created a “private military campaign” to solve its “special” tasks [in Ukraine] and, apparently, allowed Prigozhin to earn huge amounts of money through non-transparent schemes.
What preliminary conclusions can be drawn from the events of June 23-24? Of course, nothing has ended. It was only the first “symptom”. The Russian system of power is seriously ill, as representatives of the left-wing patriotic forces have been pointing out for many years.
However, there are no signs yet that the Kremlin will draw the right conclusions from what happened. Most likely, even an armed rebellion will not force Putin to carry out a serious personnel rotation in the leadership of Russia and to announce a “justice march” himself to change the disastrous course that today hinders victory and the development of our country. It is likely that the system will continue to desperately resist much-needed reforms, and our rules in the Kremlin will do whatever is necessary to continue to sit “on the throne.”
In such a situation, all supporters of socialism should not rely on God, the “good tsar” or “Prigozhin’s sledgehammer”, but organize themselves so that in the future they do not become victims and hostages of the bloody showdowns of the bourgeoisie.
Yekaterinburg-based Nakanune is a favorite of this blog, mostly because it provides extremely in-depth reporting on social issues in Russia.
The outlet published some brief comments from political scientist Sergey Chernyakhovsky on June 26:
A month ago, I heard opinions that a dual power was emerging in the country— reminiscent of the dual power struggle between Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin—that part of the military, intellectual and financial elite was concentrating around Prigozhin. What really happened, and did this split represent a real danger? Not every rebellion turns into a disaster like 1991. [...]
The problem is that the position of the military leadership of the Russian Federation, and its high passivity, has caused discontent and bewilderment in Russian society— which was reflected by Prigozhin’s emotional escapades. While speaking out against the military leadership in the context of the ongoing military campaign is unacceptable, many questions remain for our military leadership.
Nakanune also shared a short op-ed penned by retired Colonel-General Leonid Ivashov. Ivashov is a very controversial figure. He was (is?) the chairman of the All-Russian Officers’ Assembly, which issued an open letter last year warning that a war with Ukraine would have disastrous consequences for Russia (the letter was covered by this blog just days before the SMO started). His military expertise has been officially recognized, though: It should be noted that Ivashov has written for Zvezda, a state-owned outlet run by the Russian Ministry of Defense.
In his June 26 op-ed for Nakanune, the colonel-general expressed bafflement as to why the feud between Shoigu and Prigozhin was not promptly dealt with by the Kremlin.
He also argued that he didn’t think Prigozhin was hoping for regime change, noting that Putin had been the Wagner CEO’s sponsor:
[Wagner’s] trip to Moscow: Here, probably, the goal was also to watch the reaction of the presidential bureaucracy, governors, etc. And Putin in his address to the people did not name “Wagner” or Prigozhin. But there were the words “traitors” and so on.
And here is something that is not quite clear to me. Criminal cases are initiated against Prigozhin, and literally a few hours later all this is disavowed …
He suggested the whole event was “perhaps staged” and speculated that the presence of Wagner troops in Belarus could help bring Kiev to the negotiating table.
Conservative firebrand Andrei Tsyganov made some remarkable comments about Prigozhin’s SMO. In a message published on Katyusha’s Telegram channel on June 28, he said:
The series of “fateful statements” that have befallen Russia over the past two days have caused bewilderment, to say the least. (It's good that we have Lukashenko).
Putin, on the other hand, talked a lot about the rebellion and its “heroic” suppression—which the country did not notice—but he said nothing about [the insurrection’s] causes and prerequisites.
As a result, Russians began to openly laugh at the president on social networks: there is not just a lack of awareness [in Putin’s statements], but a break with reality, and even a fundamental unwillingness to see what worries huge masses of people.
Actually, for us none of this has been a secret for a long time. Or does someone think that Russians really approve of the construction of a digital biometric concentration camp, the omnipotence of global corporations and money owners, etc.? That our soldiers are fighting for Nabiullina and Gref, so that they can introduce the digital ruble and social ratings, or for Kiriyenko to hold his debilitating and corrupting VK fests for children? … Or maybe for Golikova, who defends the interests of the WHO and transgender homosexuals? Or for Manturov, who, instead of developing production and providing for the army, calls for switching to food made from fly larvae … ?
All this fully applies to the army and the NWO: the capitalist system, which has abandoned even the idea of ideology, is focused solely on profit. The oligarchs have no need for a strong army or a sovereign state—not to mention the revival of the empire. Isn’t that why even our arms factories belong to private individuals?
All these years society has tried to send signals upward. The authorities for the most part pretended not to notice them. Now, when it came to a military revolt, there was (and still remains) hope that the authorities will finally begin to hear the people.
In the meantime, we see only attempts to “sweep under the rug” and tighten the screws by handing over tanks and guns to the internal troops (Rosgvardia) and taking over the last island of freedom—Telegram...
If the supreme power was listening, we would expect resignations from, among others, Shoigu … Shoigu has long been a symbol that evokes a very definite attitude both in the army and in society. Just like Nabiullina or Gref.
Tsar Alexander I understood this and therefore dismissed his beloved Barclay de Tolly, whose name was associated with the failures of the first months of the 1812 campaign, and appointed Kutuzov, whom he did not like but was popular in the army, because he understood that the country needed to win.
His video commentary:
Her group of physicians is part of the All-People’s Union of the Revival of Russia (OSVR), a neo-Soviet sociopolitical movement in Russia.
Dr. Lushavina wrote on her public VK (Russian Facebook) page on June 25:
Let’s summarize the past events.
For two days the whole country watched the squabbling of the clans of the oligarchs.
Yevgeny Prigozhin is a businessman. And when the work of his business began to put spokes in the wheels, he decided to show his teeth. Shoigu did not just want to disband the Wagnerites—the [Russian MOD] even encroached on the Wagner base in the Central African Republic. And this is money, contracts and the interest of the Russian elites, for whom Prigozhin works.
Disputes began, and Wagner simply decided to intimidate the system of power—what happens if you can’t negotiate.
While the peasants happily cheered and hooted for Prigozhin, thinking that he had risen against Putin’s dictatorship, Prigozhin was solving his commercial issues. And it was all resolved quickly and efficiently. PMCs have vast experience in armed rebellions and they know how to work quickly. In one day the case was closed, the gold bars and passports were returned. Now the PMC will work in Belarus. This isn’t good for us, because it is better to have an excellent army of Russian fighters at home.
And what did the people get in return?
13 dead pilots. 13 professionals laid down their lives for the sake of an agreement between the oligarchs. They died for nothing.
The guarantor’s ratings dropped to zero.
Prigozhin’s ratings dropped, because when you give up and don’t finish what you started, people experience disappointment and contempt.
Lukashenka's ratings skyrocketed.
Two new laws: if you REFUSE TO FOLLOW THE ORDERS OF martial law, expect arrest for 30 days!
The draft age of reserve officers in martial law and mobilization has also increased to 70 and 65 years. Squabbling squabbling, and martial law is being prepared.
Some cities have not fully canceled the Counter Terrorism Operation regime.
Arrests of human rights defenders (Prigozhin's accomplices). Ruined roads, a blown up oil depot, gray hair, thousands of sissies who most likely left the country on 300k-ruble tickets to Turkey and Dubai ...
Kadyrov’s fighters sitting in a traffic jam near Rostov and taking pictures on the Moscow Ring Road.
Understanding that in Russia there is unrest, crisis and anarchy.
Our people’s interests are disregarded by those who have money, this must be understood. And only we ourselves can save the country—by people rallying together and unifying. This is what the two-day squabble should teach us. Therefore, join the OSVR and do not expect a change in events. But together we will figure out what to do.
There’s nobody except us.
Closing thoughts from Edward
The above commentaries span Russia’s entire ideological spectrum. What’s strange though is that this diversity of views is barely represented in Western alternative media. From my observations, it seems many Western pundits insist Prigozhin’s SMO was a sneaky plot to redeploy troops to Belarus. Case closed.
Why they believe the events of June 23-24 were necessary to send somewhere between 8-40k Wagnerites to Belarus is a difficult question to answer. Do US spy satellites stop working when mercenaries are rerouted under the “guise” of a highly worrying (and deadly) internal dispute? And when can we expect the fabled assault on Kiev, which was promised to us in the hours after Lukashenko revealed his successful negotiations with Prigozhin? It’s difficult to ignore the glaring hole in this narrative: If this is a real 5D move, spotted by Western alt media, how exactly did it “trick” Kiev and its Western sponsors?
Furthermore, why is it that this troubling event is being reported by Western alt media within the context of no context? There doesn’t seem to be any meaningful attempts to explain the long and well-documented series of circumstances that led to the “march on Moscow”. It is very odd.
For anyone who is willing to examine this event in its proper context, the idea that this “insurrection” was a clever ploy by Moscow is arguably the most speculative possible explanation for what we all witnessed.
It is true that there are many unanswered questions, and I would never pretend to have The Answers. But surely discussion in Western alternative media should more closely resemble the debate happening within Russia itself?
Just some things to think about.
Until next time,
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