What if the Prigozhin “Coup” is Maskirovka? I want to explore that possibility. Earlier today (Saturday on the east coast of the U.S.) I was sketching out a piece with the catchy title, “PRIGOZHIN — PUTSCH OR PLOY?” Well, that swell idea was blown away like the Kakhovka Dam when the narrative about the Prigozhin plan to march on Moscow and personally strangle Russian Defense Minister Shoigu went full-on Nadia Comăneci — i.e., back flip. Prigozhin ordered “his” troops back to their bases, cut a deal with the President of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, to go into exile and will face no judicial punishment. WHAT????? No bloodshed? No miles of burning tanks? And no Mussolini neck tie for Vladimir Putin? What the hell?!!
Man, you could feel the disappointment and frustration emanating from the Washington establishment. The political equivalent of premature ejaculation. Last night (Friday) you could hear the popping of champagne corks and popcorn as media and intelligence officials huddled around computer screens awaiting images of a distraught Putin running naked away from the Kremlin. Biden and his team remind me of Wiley Coyote in terms of the despair they suffer as they watch their harebrained schemes to catch Putin crash and burn.
While I cannot firmly dismiss the possibility that Prigozhin attempted this coup on his own (or with the encouragement of an outside backer), I want to present the Maskirovka scenario.
Let us start with these facts:
- The Wagner Group was established by Russian intelligence organizations and funded by the Russian Government. Many in the West mistakenly believe that Prigozhin has deep pockets and is paying Wagner’s bills and, despite having ZERO military experience, is the commander of the outfit. As the Russians say, NYET!
- Russia is considered by the U.S. and the rest of NATO as a dictatorship. Prigozhin has been shooting his mouth off for months spouting threats against the Russian military and, indirectly, at Putin but has suffered no arrest or sanction. Does this mean Russia is not a dictatorship?
- Prigozhin ostensibly launched the coup, according to his own words on Friday, because the Russian MOD hit an encampment of Wagner troops training for war with missiles, shells and rockets. But the alleged video of the incident showed no casualties. Today, Prigozhin backed away from that claim and now insists he was just protesting the MOD’s move to bring the Wagner Group into the Russian Army.
- The Russian Government waited about 12 hours before sending police/military forces to the Wagner Group headquarters in St. Petersburg. Little sense of urgency.
- Prigozhin reportedly ordered a column of Wagner troops to go from Rostov on Don to Moscow to dethrone Shoigu and maybe General Gerasimov. Take a look at the map. That is a distance of almost 1200 kilometers. How was that column of trucks and tanks supposed to refuel and cover that distance in less than 20 hours?
How about this as an explanation? The entire coup narrative was generated to allow for the movement of Russian military forces to areas north and west of Voronezh without raising the alarm among NATO planners. Russia was moving forces to stop coup plotters as opposed to building up forces for a new axis of offense.
It appears that the roots of the narrative that Prigozhin was going to betray Russia starts in 2022. Someone with ties to Western intelligence had a relationship with Prigozhin and began sounding him out about collaborating with the West. Prigozhin let his Russian intel bosses know about the pitch and the Russians decided to build an op that would present Prigozhin as a disgruntled patriot, boiling in anger at the incompetence of Russian leaders. The Russians fed this by letting Prigozhin launch vicious verbal attacks on Shoigu and Gerasimov and, if we are to believe the Jack Teixeira discord leaks, even passed intel on the locations of Russian troops to his intel handler.
Here is the interesting part of this hypothesis — who made the decision to launch Prigozhin? A credible argument can be made that the Prigozhin’s Western handlers decided that Friday was the day and ordered him into action. But I think this was stage managed in the Kremlin. Putin and his intel chiefs knew what the West was trying to foment in Russia and realized that Ukraine and NATO were reeling from their feckless counter offensive and its attendant massive losses in men and materiel. Why not use the coup attempt as a good cover story for the mass movement of troops all along the line between Moscow and Rostov on Don?
This is a way to move Russian troops to areas north of Belgorod without drawing the unwelcome attention of NATO ISR platforms. Move the troops closer to the border and then disperse them. Which means Russia found a way to reinforce troops on a new potential axis of attack that will create a nightmare for NATO planners.
Think of the coup as rabbit running across an open field. Hungry predators hiding in the forest may be tempted to expose themselves in an effort to snag a bunny. Did some of the reactions in Russia to news of the suspected coup help Russian counter intelligence identify people in positions of authority in Russia who, until now, quietly rooted for Ukraine? Maybe.
I also want to entertain a hilarious possibility. Did Prigozhin scam his western handlers out of millions of dollars? Yevgeny does have a criminal past and is known for sticky fingers. Did he draw on his criminal past and fleece the British or the Americans? Could be a terrific story.
Anyway, after less than 24 hours of drama, we are left with the mournful, but beautiful voice of Peggy Lee singing, Is That All There Is?