How the Russian cook chickened out: Mutiny and bureaucracy
A review of Alexander Dugin's "After the Movement: A Point of Bifurcation" (2023).
The slow summer routine of Russian everyday life was resumed after a very wild weekend that threatened to reshape the Russian nation-state. On Monday midday, the Mayor of Moscow announced the termination of the counter-terrorism regime of mobilization against the armed mutiny organized by the Chief of the Wagner Private Military Company: Yevgeny Prigozhin.
Timeline of the Armed Mutiny
On Friday, June 23rd, Prighozin posted a video on his telegram channel showing what he claimed to be footage of the destruction of a Wagner rear military camp, allegedly from the Russian side. The video was coupled with an audio message by Prioghozin in which he accused the Russian Defense Ministry of commanding airstrikes on a Wagner military camp and warned that he will be retaliating to this alleged strike.
"We will make a decision on how to respond to this evildoing. the next step is ours," Prighozin warned in the audio message.
BREAKING: Evgeny Prigozhin accused the Ministry of Defense of launching a missile strike on Wagner PMC's rear camps. He promised to respond to this and restore justice in the army and Russia. pic.twitter.com/qRRiwPVFD7— 301 Military (@301military) June 23, 2023
The Russian defense minister Sergei Shoigu quickly denied the circulating video of the alleged airstrike describing it as a "media provocation". Additionally, the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) opened a criminal case against Prighozin for the threats he had leveled against the Russian state.
On Saturday, Prioghozin delivered on his threats. He took over the southwestern city of Rostov and started marching towards Moscow. Prioghozin called on Russian soldiers to defect and Russian citizens to bear arms to join his movement against the Russian military establishment (namely the minister of defense Sergei Shoigu and the chief of staff Valery Gerasimov) who he has recurrently accused of bureaucratic lavishness and ineptitude in managing the war in Ukraine. The Wagner chief conditioned his withdrawal from Rostov, on Shoigu's resignation as minister of defense.
In a speech on the same day, Putin then slammed Prighozin's adventurism as treason that was driven by "personal interests and excessive ambition", and warned that all the parties involved would face severe punishment for undermining the unity and stability of Russia.
On Saturday evening, Lukashenko, President of Belarus, offered to mediate. Lukashneko's efforts proved to be effective: convincing Priogozhin to de-escalate. Shortly afterward, Prioghozin announced that his troops were withdrawing from Rostov to retreat back to their field camps.
On Sunday the constituents of the Minsk-brokered agreement were revealed.
- the criminal investigation against Prigozhin will be dropped
- Prighozin will be exiled to Belarus
- Wagner fighters who did not participate in the mutiny will sign contracts with the Ministry of Defense to start acting on its orders.
- Wagner fighters who did participate in the mutiny will be spared punishment in recognition of their duties.
On Monday, it was reported by Layout, that the Belarusian authorities will start constructing a Wagner military camp in Savichi which is 200 m away from the border with Ukraine. The camp will reportedly hold up to 8000 fighters. More Wagner camps will reportedly follow in Belarus.
Populism v Bureaucracy
The armed mutiny organized over the weekend constituted a grave watershed event for Russia. It was unlike any of the subversive movements which have struck the post-soviet space before; as opposed to the color revolutions and coups, supported and/or engineered by Western intelligence agencies, like Euromaidan and the Rose revolution, the Wagner armed mutiny reflects a real "indigenous" contradiction within the modern Russian state.
The burgeoning and dissipation of the armed mutiny can be roughly explained in reference to Prighozin's opportunism, as Putin had assessed in his Sunday speech. However, it would be reductionist to assess the events strictly through the prism of opportunism; such would disregard the preconditions which set the stage for Prigozhin's bold stunt.
Prighozin populistically capitalized on a pre-existing contradiction in the Russian state: that of elitism. While this contradiction manifested as a conflict between Wagner PMC and the Russian MoD it extends beyond to constitute a problem in the Russian social contract between the Russian bureaucracy and the Russian nation.
The mutiny was foreshadowed by a set of disputes between Wagner and the MoD.
Back in April, during the Battle of Bakhmut Prighozin explicitly accused the chief of staff and minister of defense of incompetence in a graphic video showing tens of piled Wagner soldiers' corpses whom he claimed could have been spared had Shoigu and Gerasimov met the group's logistical needs of food and ammo. This threat, publicly announced by Prigozhin on social media, signaled that a real crisis already existed.
Furthermore, a report published by the Washington Post, released on Saturday shortly after Prioghozin took over Rostov, revealed that the US intelligence knew about Prighozin's planned mutiny back in mid-June. Citing anonymous US officials, the newspaper reports that a key trigger for Prigozhin was the Russian Defense Ministry's directive back in early June ordering all volunteer detachments to sign contracts with the government. The directive, despite not explicitly referring to Wagner, had clear implications for the PMC's mode of operation: subjecting it to direct bureaucratic authority.
Wagner had long operated in Ukraine with a sense of relative autonomy and arguably secured tactical victories because of the leeway which they enjoyed far from bureaucratic complications. For the Wagner fighters, the order to enforce contracts was effectively an attempt to discredit them and appropriate their victories.
The contradiction of elitism was not fabricated by the Wagner mutiny; it pre-dates June 24th and extends beyond the military permeating into all other spheres of Russian society. The contradiction simply manifested in the military sphere between Wagner fighters and the MoD bureaucrats due to the burgeoning war in Ukraine which caused the contradiction to spike militarily. Prighozin then populistically capitalized on this contradiction for his opportunistic ends.
A dodged bullet or a chink in the armor?
Prighozin's populism was swiftly contained after Putin's speech. Prighozin who had overestimated support for his mutiny found himself sized down and buffered from influence over the Russian public. Despite being in close proximity to the capital, Prighozin recognized that his mutiny was doomed to failure. Lukashenko’s initiative, on Saturday evening, served more as a lifeline for Prighozin to honorably tap out rather than an attempt at convincing him to compromise.
Russia is a hyper-centralized state with Moscow as its focal point, Al Mayadeen’s Security Consultant explains. Prighozin's endeavor to coup out Shaigo and Gerasimov would have been futile without conquering Moscow, and despite sparing Putin from his rhetorical attacks his endeavor brought him to direct confrontation with the head of state. 200 km away from Moscow was the threshold of Prighozin's subversive momentum as it faced Putin’s bulwark.
Prighozin had probably wishfully estimated that his mutiny would gain further momentum as he inched closer to Moscow, but on Saturday evening, he came to recognize that his calculations proved to be faulty.
Point of Bifurcation
While the conflict was evaded by the joint efforts of Putin and Lukashenko, the contradiction which preconditioned the mutiny remains unresolved. This is best explained by Dr. Alexander Dugin’s recent piece on the armed mutiny “After the Movement: Point of Bifurcation”.
“The acute phase of the events of 24 June has been resolved, but nothing is quite over yet: some concrete action on the part of the authorities to clarify the picture must follow,” the Russian philosopher explains.
“The rebels have radicalized the problem, but they have only raised it, it has not been definitively resolved, but now it is here with us and cannot be escaped.”
Dugin interestingly frames the contradiction which precluded the mutiny in reference to Vilfredo Pareto’s theory of the elites; elites in power lacking power qualities are subject to being usurped by counter-elites who enjoy power qualities.
The elites being the military establishment, the counter-elites being Wagner, and the power qualities enjoyed by the latter and lacking by the former are that of “passionality”, Dugin explains.
Beyond Prighozin’s opportunism, lies the conflict between valiant soldiers and lavish bureaucrats. It was the valor of Wagner fighters that gave momentum to Prighozin against the military establishment. And correspondingly, it was the bureaucrats' lack of valor, lavishness, and ineptitude which made them vulnerable to Wagner.
Thus, Dugin concludes that the only way for the Russian state to survive this attempted mutiny by Wagner is through “becoming Wagner”. By developing the power qualities of valor and patriotism and casting out lavishness and ineptitude.
“Attention must now be paid to the generalized program that Prigozhin has hastily promulgated: society sorely lacks justice, honor, courage, and intelligence on the part of the elites. Such a lack is already causing an explosion. So why should this idea not be adopted by the authorities themselves? Putin is now (and always has been) in a position where he can do it and will surely succeed,” Dugin writes.