Does Putin have Prigozhin on his conscience?
Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin and several members of his entourage have apparently been killed in a plane crash. Russian authorities reported the crash on Wednesday evening but have not officially confirmed Prigozhin’s death. International reactions make it clear that hardly anyone is surprised by the news. Many commentators in Europe’s press also have their doubts about whether this was an accident.
Even Stalin took more pains to make the state look respectable, Russian sociologist Alexei Roshchin comments on Facebook:
“Getting all the ‘instigators’ on one plane and blowing it up is brutal. And if I may say so, it’s also aviation terrorism. And, if I may say so, what was stopping us from simply acting as if we lived in a proper state — in other words, arresting them all and putting them on trial for ‘treason’ — especially since Putin himself promised to do just that almost two months ago? Why the big show? People are quite rightly asking: what were the pilots of the Prigozhin jet guilty of? ... Even Stalin did not shy away from putting on show ‘trials’ to at least make it look as if everything was being done ‘according to the law’.”
Putin’s power based on servile state
Prigozhin miscalculated the limits of his influence, says La Stampa:
“He was powerful, but he thought he was powerful enough to threaten Vladimir Putin’s power system — no doubt eager to make a distinction between the president and the court of generals surrounding him. ... Prigozhin’s mistake was perhaps to believe that Putin would listen to his message, sack Shoigu, the defence minister whom (Prigozhin) detested, and ride the wave of insurrection that was to be more nationalistic than the Putinian state itself. But it is precisely upon this servile state and its foolish courtiers that Vladimir Putin has built his power. ... There is no place in this system for a crazy outlier like Yevgeny Prigozhin.”
No improvement of the overall situation
“If confirmed, would the death of the leader of the Wagner Group have an impact on issues we associate with Prigozhin? On the war in Ukraine, Russian operations in Africa, or provocations on Belarus’s border with the West? Unlikely. No one is irreplaceable, not even among bandits. Russia will not give up anything that was achieved with the help of Prigozhin and his mercenaries. Worse still, the liquidation of the head of the Wagner Group would send a signal to Russians that one must be of use to the Kremlin not just every now and then, but always.”
Wagner not finished yet
Prigozhin’s death will not silence critics in Russian leadership circles, The Daily Telegraph predicts:
“This crash will not be the end of internal Russian military disputes. There remains a large number of trained and active Wagner fighters, battle-hardened by combat in Ukraine or pillaging in Africa, who are highly disaffected with the leadership of their country. Indeed, some young Russians found Prigozhin’s message convincing, believing that Putin launched a war that has not been properly prosecuted. This will become a bigger problem the longer this ‘special military operation’ drags on.”