Set Up: Yevgeny Prigozhin has popped-up again in Belarus, claiming that new Wagner Group deployments are coming, emphasizing Africa and not ruling out future action in Ukraine. This, as Wagner fighters train Belarusian troops near Belarus’s border with Poland, and Russian troops mass with tanks, artillery, and multiple rocket launchers inside Belarus to open up a second attack vector against Ukraine to disrupt Ukrainian Armed Forces’ counteroffensive in Southern Ukraine.
Prigozhin had disappeared from public view for several days, reputedly in St. Petersburg, Russia, if reports were correct. Some speculated he was dead. Still others that he was not likely dead but working out a deal with Putin for Wagner’s future.
In all, Prigozhin seems to be operating from a recent historical playbook in his bob-and-move routine.
In 2015, we wrote that Putin pulled a similar disappearing act after the February 2015 assassination of popular opposition activist and protestor Boris Nemtsov on the Bolshoy Moskvoretsky Bridge in front of the Kremlin. Nemtsov’s February 2015 message-murder-by-Makarov (a standard KGB sidearm carried by Putin earlier in his KGB career) had, by March, unleashed mass protests in the Russian street against the old Soviet secret police method of rule by terror.
Putin’s disappearance from public view for over a week spurred a “Where’s Waldo” meets “DaVinci Code” news cycle to distract Russians from the Nemtsov street execution. We characterized it like this:
Putin also needed attention off of himself as related to Nemtsov. The PSYOP approach was to create an aversion effect by constant, frenzied, and anxious news saturation about Vladimir V. Putin for nearly 200 hours straight. At its zenith came a high-profile shock and sleep-depriving news event at a locus of mass cultural fondness and stability, a late night fire at the Novodivechy Convent next to the Kremlin.
And the fire at Novodivechy Convent turned Russians’ attention to something else: the prospect that without Putin, what is familiar from Russia’s imperial past would be lost. This, just before Putin reappeared as a familiar face for stability – the rescuer. The manipulation of fear of loss and chaos after a traumatic event can lead to something of a Stockholm Syndrome relationship between the scariest personality cults and their followers. Nemtsov was not forgotten, but the indignation over his still small voice was swept away in imperial images, symbols, and Russians’ fear of chaos.
Now compare Prigozhin’s remaking through many social media rants from criminal lord of cannon fodder to patriotic advocate for the rank and file Russian troops (and Putin the martyr misled by the evil military bureaucracy); and into a populist, nationalist leader vowing his “march of justice” against the bureaucracy. The false savior of Russia needed saving for his unnecessary war of legacy against Ukraine, and so Prigozhin played the false disciple Peter, rushing to sever the ears from those who would see Putin fail.
Note that here is where the face of Prigozhin’s falseness flashes its grim visage: that on one hand he claimed Putin was misled about the war on Ukraine and that it was an unnecessary war; and on the other that he continues to entertain such warfare on Ukraine, has not renounced Putin, and failed all of those he claimed to advocate for.
Rewind to Putin in 2015, whose Russia-rescue play was deep-cringe psychological warfare masking his own political self-rescue. We put it this way on LinkedIn’s then content article section, Pulse:
If Boris Nemtsov’s assassination opened a window of doubt in the father-ruler’s children about his love for them, then the father-ruler disappears long enough to make the children feel vulnerable to chaos without the order he imposes. He took their psychological blanket away and left them to sleep in the cold orphanage without his calming, inspiring, and familiar presence for over a week.
To underscore the point, the very unlikely accident of a fire in the Novodivechy Convent adjacent to the Kremlin complex burned high into the night sky just as the Russian media and public’s anxiety reached its zenith. It was like a great candle had been lit for Putin, then put out, leaving a fitful darkness over Russia.
Vladimir Putin shows up the next day as the calm, stable salve of all popular anxieties, using a secular play on Russian Orthodox Easter services in which the Savior has reappeared from the tomb. It is a deeply cynical psychological appeal to something deep within the Russian psyche: Resurrection.
After the psychological operation was over, Boris Nemtsov’s life seemed a distant irrelevancy compared to what unimaginable losses might attend the world chaos absent the saving, strong leadership of Vladimir V. Putin, quasi-Czar and Steward of the Kremlin.
Reality: Novodivechy Convent, after its extravagant renovation would safely ensconce officials and visitors cozy in the imperial shelter above the street where Russian citizen Boris Nemtsov was murdered. Nemtsov had dared speak for murdered journalists, lawyers, and activists, including Anna Politkovskaya, who wrote against the emperor’s war on Chechnya that prefigured his war on Ukraine. Anna Politkovskaya was executed when she was shot to death outside her Moscow apartment on Vladimir Putin’s birthday.
Prigozhin pretended to be a friend to those opposing the Ukraine war for a short time. He had even ranted before his ‘march of justice’ that the “special military operation” was a concocted war — yet given his ongoing submission to the Kremlin to date, apparently said it to draw off the poison of the same growing sentiment in the Russian rank, file, and street. Prigozhin the agent provocateur had their backs without really having their backs, taking force away from Russian troops’ demands and likely drawing out military officers’ opposition to Putin’s war for the FSB to hunt and purge. General Sergei Surovikin and now Igor Gurkin, aka Strelkov, have both been reportedly arrested by the FSB among others. Vladimir Solovyov also fit this pattern of acting as a friend to persecuted Russian journalists after Anna Politkovskaya was executed, only later to be revealed as firmly in Putin’s circle.
Today, Prigozhin’s ongoing advocacy for Wagner Group, his retreat to St. Petersburg, and his new missions suggests that he has been in consistent service to Putin’s interests throughout the feint at Moscow, the purges, and his relocation to Belarus nearby to a new Russian offensive. Maxar satellite photos show a military buildup at the Wagner camp at Osipovichi in Belarus.
It is possible, even likely, that Prigozhin and Wagner Group will be redeployed against Ukraine along with a reportedly growing Russian force of 100,000. Belarusian forces, if Ukraine strikes Russian forces inside Belarus, may also enter the conflict in the name of self-defense despite that the Lukashenko regime has clearly given material and strategic access support to Putin’s illegal war of aggression against Ukraine.
Observations, Thoughts, Recommendations
Information: The active measures patterns reviewed above call for the activation of free nations’ bully pulpits aiding Ukrainians as they fight for life, defense, and freedom, to forcefully repeat:
(1) That Vladimir Putin, his silovarchs, and those who have signed-onto his agenda as dependent, dedicated proxies have shown that they will push wars of aggression, burn holy sites, concoct false flag attacks, engage in mass human trafficking, spin-off refugee crises, and murder women, children, and innocent men merely for speaking, writing, or standing for truth;
(2) That Vladimir Putin’s regime is bankrupt of legitimacy for its devolution into an organization purveying war crimes and terrorist acts (Zaporizhzhia, Kakhovka Dam, Mariupol, Bucha, mass child trafficking);
(3) That China cannot be a legitimate leader in a multi-polar world so long as it supports Russia’s wars of aggression, war crimes, terrorism, and subversion of free nations on rigid communist ideologic or imperial nationalist terms;
(4) That free nations must pay for the effective, efficient, inventive military buildups necessary to deter global expansion of dictatorships of the above character and systematic evil, and that free nation corporations must be required and aided in their rapid removal of all supportive business benefiting the Russian regime of Vladimir Putin until it is overthrown or the aggression stops;
(5) That corporate representations and rationalizations for supporting such evil from a business standpoint merely camouflage the evil progressing toward greater control over global commerce routes, supply centers, natural resources, space assets, and strategic places and assets, and as such must be subject to temporary legislation aimed at incentivizing them to cease all such supportive activity. The meaning of fiduciary duty to corporate shareholders must be legislated specifically to define company financial support of foreign nation threats to free nation commerce, rule of law, governance, instruments of power, resources, and other vital interests necessary to the viability of future business freedoms, shareholder freedoms, and property rights to be a breach of fiduciary duty to the shareholders.
Free nations require buildups and updates in effective military assets to deter wider war while doing all that can be done to stop the expansion of aggressor dictatorships against their vital multinational interests.
Free nations should not telegraph themselves unless it serves the freedom interest with effective results to deter and if necessary defeat aggressors. Free nations must have leeway to reverse illegal, damaging, and indirectly-lethal actions against them by adversaries, whether kinetic or non-kinetic. A model for gray warfare aimed at deterring, thwarting, stopping, and exacting compensation for losses imposed on free nations by dictatorships and non-state dictatorial terrorist groups’ requires defining, funding, and tasking.
Dictatorships’ and terror regimes’ damaging and/or lethal actions against free peoples, people yearning for freedom, and free nations’ vital interests and legitimate, lawful instruments of power must meet with free nation gray warfare to deter the death of free nations by millions of cuts. Free nation rights to sovereignty, trade, commerce, resourcing, and self-defense depend on stopping, deterring, and defeating aggressor dictatorships’ gray warfare.