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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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FOCUS: Israel-Palestine War

Three Scenarios Where The U.S., China Or Russia Winds Up Stronger After The Gaza War

Washington, Moscow and Beijing can all, in different ways, emerge stronger from the war in Gaza war, says French geopolitical expert Dominique Moïsi. The U.S. has been more present in the Middle East since Oct. 7 — but so has Russia, while China is keeping relatively quiet.

Photo of Palestinians standing among the rubble, inspecting the damage

Palestinians stand amid the rubble following an Israeli airstrike on the Bureij refugee camp

Dominique Moïsi


PARISThe Great Power Triangle: Washington, Moscow, Peking — this was the title of an excellent book published in 1972 by Michel Tatu, a specialist of the USSR and a journalist for French daily Le Monde.

Looking back at this title today, we can wonder what effect the war in Gaza will have on this particular triangle. The conflict between Hamas and Israel is a zero-sum game: Israel can only come out a victor if it puts Hamas out of contention for good. But this is not the case for Washington, Moscow and Beijing, which can — in different ways — all emerge stronger from the conflict.

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Since Oct. 7, the U.S. has returned to the Middle East. Its military commitment, symbolized by the presence of two aircraft carriers, is simply spectacular.

Barack Obama's hesitations in September 2013, when he decided not to enforce the red line that he himself had drawn in Syria, are all but forgotten. Of course, Israel is the United States’ last major ally left in the region. Washington can’t afford to “lose” Jerusalem, as neither Cairo nor Riyadh are fully reliable partners.

Israel, the leading regional military power — much more vulnerable than it thought — needs the United States as much as the U.S. needs it. Joe Biden is drawing double lessons from the guilt of the country’s failure to act in Syria in 2013 and the strategically and symbolically catastrophic withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021.

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