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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

Why Is The “Traitor” Prigozhin Already Back In Russia?

The post-coup mystery continues with reports that Wagner founder Yevgeny Prigozhin is not, in fact, in Belarus, but in Russia. A look at what it says about Vladimir Putin's hold on power.

image showing Wagner Group founder Yevgeny Prigozhin attending a presentation event

Wagner Group founder Yevgeny Prigozhin

Lev Borodin/TASS
Pierre Haski


Betrayals aren't what they used to be.

Less than a month ago, Russian President Vladimir Putin appeared on television talking about a "stab in the back."

We were already imagining the culprit's likely punishment: Novichok, the chemical poison that eliminated former spy Sergei Skripal. Some people advised Yevgeny Prigozhin, the leader of the Wagner mercenary group who had launched an aborted coup attempt against Putin, to let someone else taste his tea before drinking it.

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Now, the Wagner boss, exiled to Belarus after his brief march on Moscow, is already back in Russia. He is reported to be in Saint Petersburg, or possibly even in the capital.

The Russian press reports that he has recovered some of his cash and gold bars; meanwhile, Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko, who helped arrange the peace deal, insists that Putin is a good man who will not ‘eliminate’ Prigozhin.

The affair

So this affair continues to be bizarre — a buffoonery at the heart of the far more dramatic war in Ukraine, an affair that has yet to reveal its secrets about Moscow's power games.

It's mysterious because it's incoherent.

All of these twists and turns are mysterious. From the rebellion of Wagner's men – who stormed through Russia with impunity – to the final episode of Lukashenko's negotiations.

It's mysterious because it's incoherent. How can such a strong state tolerate the defiance of a group of mercenaries? And if the group’s departure to Belarus already seemed surprising, Prigozhin's return to Russia so soon afterwards, so freely, is even more unexpected.

Part of the explanation lies in the long-standing, close relationship between Wagner's boss and the head of the Kremlin. Putin has publicly acknowledged the relationship, laying to rest the fable of Wagner's independence from the Russian state – a lie he had no problem repeating previously, in front of French President Emmanuel Macron in Moscow.

Image showing Vladimir Putin looking over a factory's production chain with the factory's director, Yevgeny Prigozhin.

In 2010, Putin tours one of Prigozhin's factories

Government of the Russian Federation/Wikimedia

Putin's system

Clearly, Putin has given up on punishing Prigozhin for his insubordination. He's given him free rein to go about his business, which remains highly complex: a tangle of military operations, disinformation and economic affairs in Africa.

The only thing that truly counts, obviously, is allegiance to the leader.

Is Wagner about to be "nationalized"? This was the assumption that prevailed after the June 10 coup, when Putin gave the group's men a choice: join the army, go into exile in Belarus or return home. According to NATO, which is monitoring the situation closely, few men have arrived in Belarus.

Above all, this affair speaks volumes about the nature of Putin's system, which is closer to a mafia-style operation than a modern state, and which tolerates brutal Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, with his effective methods, alongside Prigozhin, who defies the chief and escapes.

The only thing that truly counts, obviously, is allegiance to the leader. Prigozhin, even in his defiance, doesn't seem to have crossed that red line. This no doubt explains the leniency on Putin he enjoys, unlike political prisoners Alexei Navalny and Vladimir Kara-Murza, jailed for their opposing views.

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No Male Doctors For Women Patients — Iran Doubles Down On Gender Segregation

Recovering from the shock of Iran's 2022 mass protests, the clerical regime has vigorously resumed its campaign to enforce Islamic hijab rules. But it is also pushing for gender segregation in big buildings like hospitals.

A veiled women walks by a red wall painted with dark blue bats in the center

A woman in a black chador walks past a mural painting along the wall of the former US embassy in Tehran

Rouzbeh Fouladi / ZUMA

Iran's deputy-chief prosecutor, Ghulam Abbas Turki, has instructed the country's health ministry to prevent male physicians from treating female patients, saying this is a violation of morals and the law.

Turki wrote in a letter published on Sept. 14 that men working in a technical and non-technical capacity in "certain clinics" were creating "problems and difficulties for respectable ladies and their families" and even causing them "emotional and psychological problems."

Article 290 of the country's criminal code is designed to address this, he wrote. A shortage of women's clinics like birthing centers, especially in provincial districts, is forcing women into hospitals with male staff, Turki wrote — therefore, the ministry must reorganize to ensure it had the necessary female staff, from specialists to GPs, technicians, anaesthetists and nurses, across the country.

Gender segregation was on the Islamic Republic's agenda almost as soon as it took power early in 1979, and it has since sought to implement it where it could. Most recently, following mass rioting in 2022 that was in part a revolt against the Iranian regime's forceful moralizing, the state has resumed efforts to enforce its hijab or public modesty and dress norms.

Last month, Armita Geravand, an Iranian teenage girl died after reports that she was accosted by officials on Tehran's Metro while not wearing a headscarf. Geravand's death comes after her being in a coma for weeks in Tehran and after the one-year anniversary of the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini which sparked nationwide protests at the time.

Beyond the hijab crackdown, the regime is also now taking a step further with gender segregation.This was evident in a flurry of communiqués and instructions issued in past months to public bodies, including hospitals. More importantly, the parliamentary legal affairs committee has approved a 70-article Hijab and Modesty Bill (Layehe-ye hejab va efaf) the judiciary proposed to parliament in the spring of 2023.

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