The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Wagner Mercenary Company Chief Prigozhin Has Gone Over The Line

So, Prigozhin captured a Russian Colonel (after what appears to be a real firefight), and interrogated him and made him “admit” that Russia troops had fired on Wagner mercenaries.

He has also accused the Ministry of Defense (MoD) of not supplying enough ammunition and of setting explosives along the route that Wagner used to leave Bakhmut, among other things. What Prigozhin is saying, repeatedly, is “the bureaucrats are stabbing us in the back, that’s why the war isn’t going well.”

Soto Voce, of course, this is an attack on Putin, whom the hard right blames for not going full war economy, not retaliating against the West’s supply of Ukraine and keeping the gloves on (which he has, if he hadn’t, there wouldn’t be power on anywhere in Ukraine.)

Almost anyone but Prigozhin saying such things would have been in prison now, and I think Putin is making a mistake if he doesn’t make an example of Prigozhin: the kidnapping of a Colonel was over the line. Since Wagner has withdrawn from combat anyway (just in time to avoid the counter-attack, so that if Ukraine has a good counter-attack they can say “we took it, the MoD lost it), well, it’s time.

Wagner was useful because it was a prison-to-frontline piprline. It took heavy casualties of people whose deaths don’t matter to Russia. Prisoners are also ideal in that a normal person is often taken from a job. A prisoner was just an expense: if he gets dead, almost no one cares.

This is, of course, the truth behind Putin’s war: he keeps trying to fight it on the cheap: the right isn’t wrong about that. He doesn’t want to go “all-in”. Money isn’t expensive to Putin, it’s cheap. Actually doing another mobilization or moving to a war economy or putting in extended curfews to help avoid Ukrainian attacks, those are expensive, because at the end of the day, Putin does require popular support to stay in power.

Putin is popular, he has always been popular and he wants to stay popular.

But there are also attacks which can’t be allowed. When you rule, in part, by fear, as Putin does, you cannot allow someone to get away with really challenging you. That’s what Prigozhin is doing, and Putin needs to put him down and probably dismantle Wagner.

Mercenaries are always a bad idea anyway, for a variety of reasons. Putin may not need full mobilization, but he needs more than he’s done, and he should calculate the costs of a slow drag war vs. mobilizing and getting the war done by making real gains that force the Ukrainians to the table.

But leave Prigozhin to keep spewing his attacks and Putin will be seen as weak, and once seen as weak, some dog pack or another will tear him down.

(Oh, and if I were in the Russian army officer corp, I’d kidnap Prigozhin and “interrogate” him.)

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Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – June 4, 2023


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  1. different clue

    I have read a theory that the primary drivers of the war from the Ukraine side are primarily the various flavors of Indigenous Ukrainain Nazi death-cultists. The outside suppliers who keep the Ukrainian armed forces just coherent and armed enough to keep fighting the Russian forces in a militarily coherent way are the West. But even without any Western supplies at all, the Ukranazi death-cultists would keep fighting at whatever level they could until they had burned down and destroyed everything they can reach and are then all killed in detail down to the very last Ukranazi individual.

    I have read a theory that the Ukra-Western theory of the war was that Ukraine was intended to be totally invaded and occupied by Russian forces, who would then face the kind of Ukranazi Insurgency all over Ukraine that the Ukranazi forces were trained to fight. The RussiaGov decided not to invade all Ukraine so as to not face a Ukranazi Insurgency all over Ukraine. The RussiaGov prefers to have a defined battlefront to which the Ukragov will send all possible Ukranazis and Ukranormals to get killed along that defined battlefront.

    Zelensky is the Ukranazi’s hostage. If he or anyone tries to negotiate any peace with the RussiaGov, he ( or anyone) and every member of his ( or anyone’s ) family will be assassinated and he( or anyone) knows it. There is no possibility of negotiating with Nazi Death Cultists. Extermination is the only solution and a defined battlefront for years to come until Unazikraine has run out of Nazis and Normals to send into battle is the only way to achieve the sterilant extermination which will finally stop the war. The Ukranazis will never accept any negotiated anything, and if someone is able to force a persistent truce over their heads, they will begin bombing and burning and assassinating all over EUrope until EUrope itself decides the Ukranazi death cultists must all be hunted down and exterminated.

    (Does the Ukranadian community itself harbor silent nazis who may rise up and terrorise until they too are all hunted down and exterminated in their turn?)

    A side benefit of that might be the terminal depletion of all NATO military stocks and then the dissolution of NATO itself, and more importantly the dissolution and abolition of the New Holy EUroman Empire in Europe.

  2. Soredemos

    Or Prigozhin is being given a long lease to be an outlandish media figure who generates lots of attention. I won’t pretend to know precisely why this might be the case, but it could either be part of some internal Russia political power struggle between branches of the military, or between the Kremlin and parts of the military.

    It may also be an attempt to muddy the waters for the Ukrainians. All of the ‘all my men in Bakhmut are dead and we have no ammo’ claims (made as Wagner was in fact advancing in Bakhmut steadily) struck me as nothing more than an attempt to bait Ukraine into attacking there. “Golly gee, we’re so weak! I sure hope no one attacks us here and now…”

    Regardless of the underlying motivation behind his being given so much leeway, as far as I can tell Prigozhin is a pure bullshit artist. He says and does outlandish things habitually. I literally don’t believe anything he’s said. He was screaming for months about Wagner suffering supposedly devastating losses and lacking munitions, and yet day after day they continued to advanced and the Russian barrages continued (at one point near the end of the Bakhmut fight, when Ukraine was down to a few city blocks of high rises, Prigozhin made yet another claim about having no ammo. A couple days later what was left of the Ukrainian held areas were turned into a sea of fire with an incendiary bombardment. So much for no ammo).

    I simply don’t believe his latest claims. I don’t see any reason to think Wagner was particularly mutilated by the Bakhmut fighting. It was a brutal fight, sure, but Russia enjoyed a near total artillery and air power advantage. This constant meme about Russian human waves or whatever are complete projection. That’s actually how the Ukrainians have been fighting, while the Russian side has taken constant steps to minimize its own casualties (as well as civilian casualties, by the way. Meanwhile Ukraine habitually bombards civilians, first in Donbass and now in Belgorod. Ukrainian tactics are increasingly simply petulant terrorism).

    I’m sure Wagner’s role has been partially to outsource casualties away from the regular Russian army, but the Wagner operations still enjoyed robust support from the regular army, including that crushing artillery advantage. I frankly don’t believe Prigozhin when he claims Wagner took 20k casualties. This seems more like a play to lull Ukraine into thinking Wagner will be off the field for a while, before it gets quietly redeployed into the fight elsewhere.

    I think Prigozhin is frequently simply lying. Russia mined Wagner’s exfiltration route? Literally why would they do that? Talk about a massive waste of effort and material, especially when Russia had front lines to fortify.

    Also, it should probably be noted that Prigozhin doesn’t actually command any Wagner operations. He may be the boss (and that’s actually unclear. He’s certainly not the founder of Wagner. Oh, he ‘admits’ to having founded it. But, again, Prigozhin is a bullshitter. A skinhead Russian army veteran named Dmitry Utkin is the actual founder. Prigozhin is effectively just some guy with money who came along later and laid claim to the group).

    Prigozhin is also almost certainly some sort of GRU intelligene asset. So all these notions about him having gone rogue land really flat for me. Wagner gets Russian MoD money as part of its annual budget. It is, ultimately, part of the Russian military. Wagner is doing exactly what Wagner has been told to do.

    Incidentally, the Ukrainians aren’t going to have a good counter-attack. It’s only been a couple days and they’re already getting shredded. The cope is that these were just probing attacks and the real deal still hasn’t happened yet, but even if true, the losses have been massive for just reconnaissance. Ukraine has no functioning war industry left (or much of an economy at all for that matter). It is entirely dependent on foreign aid, and the Western military industry that produces all that stuff is running on fumes at this point. It’s shaping up to be a pathetic replay of Kursk or the Battle of the Bulge. One final, doomed to fail push that will get taken to pieces for virtually no gain, while the largely untouched Russian forces will have a chance to brutally counterpunch.

  3. Purple Library Guy

    The counter-offensive is going to be interesting. There are two basic questions.

    First, can the Ukrainian armed forces, with enough NATO weapons, actually take a good deal of territory back in ways that will cause serious problems for the Russians? I don’t think they can, but I don’t think it’s impossible; maybe 1 in 4 chance?

    Second, how hard will the Ukrainian military hemorrhage men and materiel in the process of trying? Mounting an assault against a serious defence gets you killed way harder than defending. It’s been a testament to the effectiveness of Russian artillery and other standoff weapons that it seems like even when Russia has been, mostly in a slow careful sort of way, on the attack, attrition has lopsidedly favoured Russia. Even in places like Bakhmut where the Russians have been bleeding, it seems like the Ukrainians were getting bled even more. But the Ukrainians are doing a big push. Worse, they’re doing it where the Russians were totally expecting them to do it; they’ve been preparing that front for months. And if you’re going to do a big push, you have to throw the resources in–if you do it half-heartedly you’ll just dribble away resources for nothing. But that means if you fail, you really get mauled.

    So basically, what are the chances that the Ukrainians are going to get their army chewed up so bad they can’t hold the front any more after they’re done? I’d say significant. This already seems to be multiplying the speed of attrition and they’re just getting started.

    Incidentally, it’s going to be hard to judge this based on early territorial gains by the Ukrainians. I’ve noticed a difference in how the Ukrainians and Russians handle giving up ground. Ukrainians seem to base the decision on “Can we hold?” If they can, they do. Maybe even if they can’t, they’ll still try. They will spend a lot of lives trying to keep every single hamlet, often delaying the decision to pull back too long so they get people surrounded. Russians don’t care nearly as much about keeping territory (it’s not theirs after all). If they’re going to get beat up bad holding, they’ll kite, trying to hurt the enemy bad as they retreat. Then maybe after the artillery has softened up the enemy some more, they’ll try to take back what they just retreated from. The point is more for the enemy troops and machinery to end up dead. In fact, often the Russians taking territory seems to be less about getting it than about forcing the Ukrainians to defend it so they can be spotted for artillery (and drones, missiles, bombs). Then if they successfully cream most of the defenders, they’ll take it, but that was never the main point.

    I’m not sure how much it matters that the Russians aren’t recruiting more people (yet). It seems like in modern warfare there’s only so many people you can spread across a front before they start being not so much more firepower as more targets.

  4. Dan Lynch

    Prigozhin is hard to figure out, and I agree that he has repeatedly “gone over the line.” HOWEVER … Prigozhin has a history of “trolling,” of saying outrageous things to get attention. In that sense, he is sort of the court jester.

    Then there is the possibility that Prigozhin is deliberately spouting disinformation to confuse the enemy, to make the enemy think that Russia is weak, to encourage the enemy to attack.

    I can’t help but believe that Putin approves of Prigozhin’s rants, since after all, Putin could put an end to them with one phone call.

    Putin remains popular and will continue to be popular as long as he wins the war. Military progress was slow over the winter but that was expected due to weather and Russia’s focus on building defensive lines and training the new troops. I believe we’ll see much more progress in the coming months.

    Putin is 72 so he may not run for re-election, but even if he decides to retire I’m sure he’ll want to have a say in choosing his successor.

  5. Soredemos

    @Purple Library Guy

    Ukraine is fighting to preserve and retake territory.

    While Russia is fighting to kill Ukrainian soldiers and destroy their equipment as a means to both defanging the country and forcing the achievement and solidification of territorial gains at the negotiating table. In the end Russia will grow, but they don’t necessarily have to seize all of the territory they’ll claim by direct conquest.

    And that first point is especially important; it’s amazing how over a year into this most people don’t seem to grasp what Russia is saying when it talks about ‘demilitarization’. When Russia is done with this war, Ukraine will not have a military. If it has to do it the slow way and kill most Ukrainian soldiers one at a time, that’s what it will do. But when it’s done, Ukraine will have no army worthy of the name, no capacity to build a new one, and will not be allowed to again be a NATO proxy force and staging ground.

    I don’t know what the future holds in other places, eg Finland now being an actively hostile NATO member, but Ukraine is done. It will be smashed to pieces.

  6. mago

    Prigozhin is a chef, and that says it all for me.
    Dude’s a big mouthed opportunist.
    Prisoners to combatants.
    Shouting here and there to serve transitory agendas.
    Pretty much the same everywhere.
    Nobody wins and everybody loses.
    Keep the drama and cameras rolling . . .

  7. Feral Finster

    1. I suspect that attention and success have gone to Prigozhin’s head. Not the first time that such a thing has happened. As it turns out, his success was based on the fact that Wagner was more willing to take casualties, while the Stavka has tried to avoid them, waging war on the cheap, as they say.

    I have made myself hella unpopular with Russia fanbois by pointing out the Kremlin’s refusal to take the war seriously enough.

    2. I realize that this was in fact the West’s original strategy for Ukraine, but Ukraine is not ideal for a guerilla war. Successful insurgencies (e.g. Afghanistan, Vietnam, Zimbabwe, and Yemen) all have one thing in common – they have young populations. Guerilla warfare is a young man’s game.

    The median age in Ukraine was over 40, even before the war started.

  8. Tallifer

    Looking back through history, proclaiming loyalty to the King while attacking his evil ministers is a recurring theme. Prigozhin just wants to be the Czar’s favorurite.

  9. Soredemos

    @Feral Finster

    I’m not sure why saying that should piss off Russia supporters. It’s entirely self-evident that Russia is attempting to run this war with as little disruption of the home front as possible. And largely succeeding: they’ve fought all of NATO to a standstill and revealed the limits of its technology and its industrial capacity. All while increasing the size and stregnth of its own army and amply demonstrating its own capacity for manufacture weapons (and think it’s fair to say any notions of ‘Russia is about to run out of ammo’ have been thoroughly debunked at this point).

  10. Feral Finster


    The fanbois think that this is all part of an incredibly elaborate Eleven Dimensional Chess Master Plan, when it clearly is not.

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