As Vladimir Putin sits thinking in his bomb-proof office, he may come to regret the fact that the entire world is sure that he ordered the death of the mutinous mercenary leader Yevgeny Prigozhin. The Kremlin is a Camorra, a mafia style parliament, running a gangster operation to fill Putin’s pockets and those of his oligarchs and elites. But as the Japanese found in Burma in 1944, if you prosecute a war with terror you will likely come unstuck against a well led, motivated and moral organisation like General ‘Bill’ Slim’s ‘Forgotten Army’.
Putin may in fact have signed his own death warrant. His fingerprints may not have been on the firing button when Prigozhin’s jet was brought down, and may not have been on the Polonium or Novichok which killed some of his other opponents, but his DNA is all over the orders. He now has two very powerful groups to worry about – quite apart from the International Criminal Court, which no doubt has so much evidence that if he ever gets to the Hague he will never leave.
Firstly, Putin must worry about his oligarchs who have now been holed up in their dachas in Moscow for over 18 months, unable to use their superyachts or villas in the Mediterranean. As their leader is further vilified around the globe over this latest murder, the oligarchs may come to see that their only chance to break out of Russia, now so diminished economically and socially, is to dispose of Putin.
Secondly, the Wagner Group might have lost their ‘cowboy’ leader and his deputy, but they remain a large force of thugs and murderers. Prigozhin was no military commander, but the Wagner Group is the most successful military outfit that Russia has managed to put into the field, no matter that they are paid mercenaries, many of them recruited out of Russian jails. To control such a rabble, you need some very hard ‘lieutenants’ running the show and these men will now be considering the future in Belarus and Africa. How ironic it would be if somebody showered them with riches to go and create mayhem within Russia. My experience of mercenaries is that they are not too picky about whose money they take.
It’s unlikely to be a coincidence that the final dismissal of ‘General Armageddon’ Sergei Surovikin was announced on the same day as Prigozhin was taken out. Putin has now disposed of his most effective military commanders and is left with desk jockeys like Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov to run the battles in Ukraine and the defence of Moscow. These men might have chests full of medals, but these medals are for ‘needle work and cookery’, not for fighting as Surovikin’s and Prigozhin’s were. A poorly led army is a rabble which will likely turn and run, and this is now what Putin has created.
I imagine that over the next few days we are also likely to be treated to a flood of “kompromat” which the late Yevgeny Vitorovich will have gathered on Putin and his baleful regime, for release in the event of his death. This could mean further pressure on an increasingly beleaguered Kremlin.
In the cold light of day, when Muscovites yet again have to dive for their shelters as Ukrainian drones approach, and reflect that their young men are coming home in boxes rather than in triumph, they will surely start to realise that Putin’s ‘special military operation’ is a complete disaster. But I expect it will be the oligarchs and Wagner who finish Putin before he completely destroys the Russian state.
What comes next cannot be worse or more evil; we’ve seen hell on earth in the last 18 months. What is certain is that the next Russian leader will not have a useable army or effective generals to command it for a generation.
Things are likely to get messier before they get better, but after the demise of Surovikin and Prigozhin, Putin’s coffin won’t require many more nails.
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