The Kayfabe Coup is Under Way

Prigozhin’s troops seize Rostov and regime looks paralysed. Updates follow.

Paul Mason

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As I write, Russian Telegram channels are flooded with videos of Wagner Group detachments staging a coup in Rostov. In Voronezh they’ve reportedly exchanged fire with regular forces; in others, paramilitaries at checkpoints designed to stop them are shown hiding as they pass.

UPDATE 05:37 CET: Putin has still not reacted.

Wagner’s leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin, declared war on the Russian general staff yesterday, and claimed his mercenaries had been hit with artillery fire from the regular Russian Army. This morning his troops are in control of the Southern Military District HQ in Rostov and attempting to move north. He said:

“After we finished what we started, we will return to the frontline to protect our motherland. Presidential authority, Government, Ministry of Internal Affairs, Rosgvardia, and other departments will continue operating as before. We will deal with those who destroy Russian soldiers. And we will return to the frontline. Justice in the Army will be restored. And after this, justice for the whole of Russia.”

Meanwhile, numerous people with contacts inside the Moscow elite report paralysis. So what’s going on?

First, we can be 100% certain this is not any kind of popular uprising. It’s a long-signalled and advance-choreographed conflict between factions within the regime, in response to failure in Ukraine. The clue is precisely in Prigozhin’s description of the end-state, above: everything back to normal.

Second, we can be pretty certain of the aim, which is to depose the current military leadership — Shoigu and Gerasimov. Prigozhin himself has stated his beef is not with Putin. His video rant blames the MoD for deceiving Putin about Ukraine’s intent; he claims they were allied to “oligarchs” aiming to plunder Ukraine and the war cannot be won.

Russia is losing

Third, the context. Whatever the difficulties of the Ukrainian counter-offensive, which is still at an early stage, Russia is losing strategically.

The moment the West committed to sending F-16s was a signal to Putin to cut his losses: with…

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Paul Mason

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