Yevgeny Prigozhin reportedly remains in St. Petersburg, Russia rather than in exile in Belarus as expected after his June 24th “march of justice” on Moscow.
Belarusian President Lukashenko publicly speculated that Russian President Vladimir Putin has softened toward Prigozhin, perhaps discussing a “new” working relationship.
Observations, Thoughts, and Informational Uses
- Shifting words and actions by the Russian leadership figures surrounding Prigozhin’s activities, location, favor with Putin, ‘march of justice,’ and Prigozhin’s own words fit the purpose and patterns of past Russian deception operations, or maskirovka, creating ongoing uncertainty, doubt, confusion, and hesitation about Moscow’s actions and intentions. This could also have helped conceal and protect Wagner Group’s repurposing from combat to counterintelligence and back to combat for a time, introducing Lukashenko as a diversionary interlocutor. While this may not have been the original plan, it is plausible it was given the history of Russian deception. It could also be an adaptation from chaos to cover weakness and buy time to find strength (Sun Tzu). In the end it does not matter so long as strength is found. Time is the suspect commodity here, needed and secured. Nuclear arms, their use, and or insecurity in chaos, repeatedly set the deterrent, uncertainty backdrop trending in Western discouragement of Ukraine from striking high value Russian targets inside Russia when Russia appears weak.
- Yevgeney Prigozhin in recent days morphed his ‘march of justice’ again from a protest to a (counterintelligence?) operation to expose “traitors” and rally Russians. This seems consistent with purges in the Russian military and others by the FSB thereafter, including the alleged arrest of General Sergei Surovokin, Commander of Russian Aerospace Forces for supposed sympathy with Prigozhin’s stated cause. Russian Aerospace Forces Commander Gen. Sergei Surovikin’s reported arrest and some pilots under his command refusing to bomb Wagner mercenaries, combined with Prigozhin’s about face on his ‘march of justice’ would tend to support the view that Prigozhin betrayed military elements sympathetic with his ‘march.’
- Yevgeny Prigozhin’s prolonged presence in Russia following President Putin’s condemnation of Prigozhin for apparent treason and exile to Belarus suggests that Prigozhin and Wagner Group were serving Putin and the FSB, while his exile and Wagner’s removal to Belarus was for repurposing, possibly rearming, and preservation from both Ukrainian attack and possible reprisals from within the Russian military for Prigozhin’s two-faced maneuvers for ‘justice.’
- Prigozhin’s recent video comments promoted himself and Wagner Group as due to return to the forefront of the aggression against Ukraine, consistent with the above points. Lukashenko represents Wagner Group as both trainers and possible protectors of Belarus, however a stretch that is given Wagner’s massive losses in Bakhmut for little gain. In our last dispatch we cited Lukashenko naming Russia and Belarus as a “union.” This combined with an old military encampment undergoing expansion near Osipovichi, Belarus could stage Wagner Group mercenaries and visiting Russian troops relatively close to Ukraine, Lithuania, and Latvia.
- President Lukashenko reportedly said relations between Putin and Prigozhin were good, Putin was softening-up on Prigozhin, and maybe better than good in his public statements about their history in St. Petersburg together, which was an odd comment. Business Insider reported on Prigozhin’s private calendar indicating frequent work within Putin’s circle of power for over a decade.
- Informational usage: At a minimum, Western diplomacy at the United Nations and abroad should publicly and repeatedly point to Russia’s autocratic leadership model as fundamentally deceptive, untrustworthy at home and abroad, and as self-destructive of the Russian national unity. The truth that deception has spun out of control in Russia leading to leadership self-deception as happened before the collapse of the Soviet Union should repeatedly reach the Russian people’s ears at their red line: chaos is coming because of Putin. To back this up in the world of operations, Ukraine and its defense contact group of nations must be willing to allow certain military-related targets inside Russia and between Russia and Ukraine to be struck to establish deterrence that may lead to regime change, and then detente.