Wagner Group - Russian Roulette
Skyfall a la Bond!
Vladimir Putin may not have the craggy good looks of a Daniel Craig in a Bond movie, but with his poker face and espionage heft as a former KGB spook he can ‘bond’ with the best in the cloak and dagger world.
In the murky maze of political power play, the Russian mercenary warlord, Yevgeny Prigozhin, became literally the fall guy. Hailed as a ‘Russian Hero’ for his military successes in the ongoing Ukraine war, he was a close confidant and trouble shooter for Putin in many pockets of the world. His rag-tag band of fighters recruited from prisons--- a world he knew well having spent many years in the clink for his dark deeds as a misguided youth---morphed into a formidable fighting force.
His hubris in taking on the Kremlin led to his undoing. An Icarus flying too close to the Sun! The March on Moscow, mounted against the Defence Ministry’s inept conduct of the Ukraine war according to him, remained an aborted mutiny. The Kremlin was bankrolling the Wagner group by $1 billion dollars between May 2022 and 2023. Prigozhin’s private military company was allegedly used as a proxy by the Kremlin ,for military operations abroad in support of Russian objectives. A military equivalent of the army of lobbyists the West uses with a straight face.
Wagner Group had ‘troll farms’ online that boasted openly about interfering in U.S. presidential elections and its mercenary force was reportedly used by the Kremlin as what in diplomatic doublespeak is called a tool for ‘plausible deniability’. So this failed insurrection against the powers that catapulted Prigozhin from a hamburger tycoon to a political wheeler-dealer turned out to be his swan song.
Known as ‘Putin’s chef’ for catering at the high-profile banquets for visiting dignitaries, he served an unpalatable dish laced with treason. Biting the hand that fed him led to a Wagnerian operatic coda for the mercenary group named after Hitler’s favourite nineteenth century composer, Richard Wagner---a staunch German nationalist. Curiously, the Wagner Group members assigned musical notes too as names.
The Russian Supremo led Prigozhin to believe that he and his co-conspirators could be pardoned. But this treasonous act of challenging Putin’s power that diminished his macho aura both in domestic and international eyes, was reason enough to rub out the man too big for his military boots now.
As the idiom goes, revenge is a dish best served cold. In the tried and tested bag of tricks of polonium poisoning, radioactive salads, mysterious falling out of windows for dissidents and traitors: the deadly menu was perhaps extended this time. Prigozhin and the core group of brothers-in-arms fell from the skies in a fiery blaze of their private jet last month. A ’skyfall’ as a metaphor for anyone stepping out of line.
Prigozhin was playing Russian roulette in spearheading this rebellion against Moscow. This practice originated in Tsarist Russia when a single bullet was loaded in the pistol cylinder and spun around and then pointing the pistol at your head you pulled the trigger. A bizarre parallel to the ‘Spin & Win’ wheels that pop up online. Prigozhin definitely took a loaded gamble with his mutiny and shot himself in the head .
Obviously, Prigozhin was not a student of history or else he would’ve heeded the oft- repeated adage that history repeats itself. A Russian military officer ,Pugachev, rose in revolt against Empress Catherine the Great in 1773. But the ‘putsch’ was put down despite its initial traction. Pugachev was captured and exhibited in a cage in Moscow for treason and hacked limb by limb in front of a massive gathering of spectators. In Prigozhin’s plane crash the Russian investigative committee doesn’t rule out pilot error, technical malfunction or “external influence” for the entire core group meeting a flaming end in their Embraer private jet. What that external influence could be is shrouded in mystery as yet.
This could make an edge of the seat Bond movie script. Russian casting companies could bet their last rouble on Putin as the Russian Bond. And a slight twist to an available hit song ‘Ra-Ra-Rasputin’ could be the theme song of the movie --- ‘Rah-Rah- Putin, let’s keep shooting’! This ending is purely poetic license to inject(no innuendo!) some humour into the dark world of political intrigue. As Machiavelli said, ends justify the means!