Staged chaos: Russia’s real deterrent

Prigozhin mutiny creates political fragmentation bomb

Paul Mason

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Yevgeny Prigozhin in Russia’s Southern Military HQ, 24 June 2023

Putin blinked. Prigozhin gets to run his neo-colonial crime empire from Belarus. Some generals will be fired. The war goes on. That’s the appearance. But what is the essence?

I’ve been depressed by the incapacity of the Western media to cope with the reality of Russian fascism over the past 24 hours; where the concept of appearance/essence is a vital analytical tool.

What appears to happen, and what’s actually happening are nearly always different: truth is contained within facts, but not presented prima facie. You have to analyse, discern the signal from the noise, dechyper message from signal. Bring historical knowledge to the table.

So what happened? Let’s start at the appearance level.

Prigozhin staged a revolt to topple the leadership of the Russian MoD. It was clearly telegraphed, as was its limited intent. It was executed at speed, using classic coup-de-main tactics on the ground, and managed to dominate the Russian information space.

To defeat it, Putin would have needed to put one army brigade on the Oka river, and used the Russian airforce to bomb Wagner Group’s strung-out column, having first taken out its air defences. But he could not. Nor could his intelligence service, apparently, give adequate warning of the mutiny.

Putin failed because, though the air force tried to stop Wagner, they suffered losses and, reportedly, some pilots refused. There is no record of any serious army mobilisation, and Rosvguardia troops at checkpoints simply let the column pass.

Instead Putin likely fled in a command aircraft to Valdai, along with members of the Moscow elite, and negotiated with Prigozhin, leaving the latter a power broker in what comes next.

Meanwhile numerous internal factions declared their positions: the “Free Russian” groups in Ukraine backed the uprising, as did Navalny; Kadyrov backed the central government; Igor Girkin’s “Club of Angry Patriots” raged at the paralysis. The position of the FSB within yesterday’s events remains unknown.

What we’re left with, at the appearance level, is a weakened authoritarian state which just…

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Paul Mason

Journalist, writer and film-maker. Author of How To Stop Fascism.