Historian Alexei Venediktov venomously observes that some people have more anti-war Prigozhin than Vladimir Kara-Murza, more anti-corruption than Alexei Navalny, more anti-Putin than Boris Nemtsov. Almost a modern-day Andrei Dmitriyevich Sakharov.
I haven’t heard any democrats or even liberals mold Sakharov, Nemtsov, Navalny, or Kara-Murza out of the typical “reputable businessman”, whose secret “zindangs” were the stuff of “Nevsky Prospect legends for years. Under Putin, the “reputable businessman” found himself funding a gang of thugs, united by a true religious cult of violence and brutality. This gang was created by the intelligence services to carry out all kinds of “sensitive” assignments outside the Fatherland. Where “we are not there”.
In all parts of the world, where the Wagnerians were found, a terrible, bloody trail lingers behind them. Naturally, Prigozhin financed them on behalf of the state and for state preferences. A classic “gray scheme. Neither Prigozhin nor his underlings can evoke anything but disgust.
Venediktov’s own view of Prigozhin’s “performance” boils down to the following three theses:
1. It was a rebellion not against the war, but for the war. For a more decisive conduct of the war until victory.
2. It was not a rebellion against Putin, but for Putin. For a tougher, more ferocious Putin, capable of waging a more decisive war until victory.
3. Consequently, those who took to the streets to greet the Wagnerites are those who support Putin and the war.
Historian Venediktov completely ignores the fact that before and during the mutiny Prigozhin engaged in radical anti-war rhetoric. From vivid descriptions of “what we did there” and admissions that “no one was going to attack us”, to “assumptions” that the invaded territories would “probably” have to be abandoned.
As for the “tsarist” ideology of the rebellion, the stories about how Shoigu and Gerasimov deceived the simpleton “tsar” with tales of NATO intrigue in their own self-interest are too much, even for the zombie-eyed masses. It is clear to everyone that this is no more than a ritual, the observance of accepted decency. For the more naive, there is the calculation of turning the “tzar” into an instrument for their anti-elite aspirations. If they succeed. And if it fails, we will tear it down together with the elite.
Those who came out to greet the Wagnerites welcomed the people who are going to dismantle the “bosses”, the elite in general. No one gave much thought to who was among that elite, Putin and Shoigu. This question would have arisen later, if the revolt had evolved. But not at the time of the first romantic euphoria.
Another question is how deep the divergences between the “deep people” and the elite are now, and what they are in general. Unfortunately, the years of post-Nazi propaganda have had their effect. Today, the elite, the “deep people”, the Prigozhinians, and the Girkinians are united by one essential thing. The same thing that sharply separates them all from the insignificant minority of democrats and liberals. From “Russian Europeans”. It is the smug conviction that you can take what is not yours. It is okay to attack your neighbor. And on occasion, it is necessary.
But beyond that, the Putin majority can be divided into two, again unequal, parts. For the majority, it’s okay to take things that aren’t theirs if “we won’t get anything for it”. But if there are serious costs, then “we must think about it. For a smaller part, taking someone else’s property, subjugating, bending over a neighbor is an end in itself. A sacred act of existential self-assertion. And this is where “we do not stand behind the price”. At any price.
Such are the few Girkins and Dugins. So, too, are Putin and the group of his cronies (including the top propaganda staff), who have had a decisive influence on him for at least the last ten years. For Putin, the Ukrainian war is an existential final battle with Western liberalism. But for Prigozhin (as he himself explained shortly before the uprising), it was simply a village going out to fight the village. They wrestled with each other, and then they settled it. It’s a mundane affair.
It is the “elite” that suffers from delusions of geopolitical grandeur and global messianism. Putin’s ruling class of upstarts “from dirt to riches”, dazed by the untold wealth and immense power that have suddenly fallen into their hands. But the people at the bottom of the pyramid are far closer to Putin’s view, despite all the ideological poison that the Russian television channel feeds them. In the person of Prigozhin, these “deep people” have denounced the Fuhrer: “We just wanted to fight with each other in the neighborhood. And we did not sign up for your super-valuable ideas. Why did you drag us into your fornication?”.
Putinism will collapse when the one who reached for someone else’s, but got burned, will say, “I didn’t need it. I was dragged into it”. And later he will decide who dragged him in – Shoigu and Gerasimov or Putin himself. The mutiny, organized by an unprincipled adventurer and condottier, because of his infringed business interests, had the chance to grow into an anti-war movement. Yes, the rebel turned out to be small-time. But there was a chance.
Prigozhin and the Wagnerites are certainly evil. But the global threat to civilization, aimed at moving toward the rule of law, the priority of human rights, freedom, equality and justice, does not come from them. That threat comes from Putin and his henchmen. They are the ultimate evil. They can only be torn down. And anyone who tears them down will save the world.
This is what historian Venediktov does not want to admit. For him, Putin and his clique are not an absolute evil. He still hopes for a rational compromise with them. Through the “consent of the elites”. This is why he refuses to see the anti-war message of the Prigozhin rebellion.