Anti-Imperialism/Foreign Policy

The Long Shadow of Yevgeny Prigozhin’s Ghost

By Nicky Reid aka Comrade Hermit

Exile in Happy Valley

And just like that, they declared the Devil dead. After a meteoric career that found him playing the role of the bane of quite literally everyone’s existence, Yevgeny Prigozhin: Russian super mercenary was annihilated in a death straight out of an eighties action flick. Burnt beyond recognition in a fiery plane crash with nine of his goons just north of Moscow in the rural Tvor Oblast.

Much like the rest of Yevgeny Prigozhin’s biography, his demise seemed downright improbable but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true. A Soviet gangster-turned hotdog vendor who had climbed his way to the top of Yeltsin’s crony capitalist dystopia to spin a catering empire into a globetrotting crypto-fascist death squad, Yevgeny the Terrible burst into flames as one of the most universally despised men on the planet. A real-life supervillain whose fearsome Wagner Group nearly single-handedly turned the tide of Putin’s hopeless jihad to conquer Ukraine only to bite the hand that fed him caviar and human flesh by launching a mutiny against the Kremlin that ended as quickly and as weirdly as it had begun. But then in a poof of smoke, he was gone.

My first response was ‘Bullshit!’ There had to be a different angle here. The whole thing just didn’t add up to me. On the two-month anniversary of his highly publicized and humiliating 24-hour uprising against Putin’s rule, a career killer, all-but marked for death, gets on board a private jet headed straight for enemy territory with his fucking name on the charter. I’m just not buying it.

How do we even know if this motherfucker is really dead? The paranoid side of me is thinking that Nosferatu is living it up on a steady diet of Johnnie Walker and brown-brown down in some Sub-Saharan outback, playing warlord to a bunch of teenage dope fiends in Toyota technicals. And I tend to trust the paranoid side of me. That bitch has a pretty tight record.

But the rest of the world seems strangely content to just except the Devil’s mysterious death at face value and move on. After making a few mincingly maudlin remarks designed to cream the panties of his tankie war-blogger fan-club, Putin publicly washed his hands like Pontius Pilate and disappeared back into his hole in the Kremlin. For his part, Putin’s dilapidated Yankee counterpart, Joe Biden, basically just grumbled ‘Putin did it” and declared the whole thing to be a “sideshow” before cautioning us all not to get too distracted from the big picture of blowing Ukraine to bits.

Regardless of Prigozhin’s true fate, both sides of an increasingly paranoid proxy war in Eastern Europe seem to be in complete agreeance that there is nothing to see here, and this fact fascinates me more than any conspiracy theory. Usually, the moneychangers in the war rooms of Babylon jump on any narrative that makes Vladimir Putin look like Ra’s al Ghul with ICBMs and their doppelgangers in the Kremlin generally aren’t too far behind them, declaring every body that shows up on their doorstep to be an American false flag operation. So why not this time? Why is the burnt offering of Prigozhin’s presumed corpse the only smoldering heap that these creeps refuse to poke with a stick?

If I were a gambling gal, I would hedge my bets on the possibility that this has something to do with the fact that what old Yevgeny represents is actually a whole lot more terrifying to a world at war than anything he actually was. Contrary to popular lore, the Wagner Group were a relatively insignificant horde of neo-Nazi hitmen for the lion’s share of their putrid existence, but world wars have a tendency to make mountains out of mutants.

Founded by Prigozhin following the 2014 NATO coup in Ukraine as a way for Moscow oligarchs to hijack legitimate popular dissent among ethnic Russians in the Donbass, Wagner evolved into a cruel posse of career sadists tasked with carrying out the dirty work that even a wanna-be despot like Vladimir Putin couldn’t afford on his rap sheet. This all changed in 2022 when the Kremlin once again used the plight of the Donbass as an excuse for imperial plunder. This is when Putin opened the gates of his gulags to Prigozhin and Wagner transformed overnight into a formidable army of modern-day gladiators.

Between February and December of 2022, western intelligence sources estimate that Wagner’s ranks swelled from just several thousand to nearly 50,000 with the majority of the new recruits being Russian convicts offered the opportunity to fight for their freedom. To these men, Putin’s “special operation” in Ukraine wasn’t about denazification or national chauvinism, it was about their own liberation from one of the most heinous prison systems on earth and they fought like starving lions to receive it.

But Mother Russia never had any intention of living up to their end of the bargain. To the Kremlin, Wagner’s new recruits were nothing but expendable sacks of meat to be chucked into NATO’s woodchipper. Tens of thousands of these desperate convicts were eviscerated in waves in Bakhmut alone and even after they actually managed to win that holocaust, they found themselves under attack from the regular Russian infantry who they were ordered to hand the territory back over to.

This isn’t to say that Prigozhin was some kind of Spartacus, he just played one online to keep his men in toe, bragging about his own checkered past as a convict and playing the part of the rebel warlord for the camera phones. During a period of near universal consensus on the omnipotence of Putin’s military brilliance among the Russian intelligentsia, Yevgeny stood virtually alone in provocatively thumbing his nose at the Czar with social media posts trashing his Kremlin sponsors.


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