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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

Vladimir Putin, And The Cruel Art Of Disposing Of Your Enemies

Yevgeny Prigozhin is gone, two months to the day of his aborted insurrection against the Russian military. The Wagner Group chief was likely killed in a plane crash on orders from the Kremlin. A piece written after Wagner's coup offers a reminder that Russia is in the hands of a man obsessed with control, who wields his cowardice as a weapon.

​A woman holds a red umbrella in Moscow, Russia.

A woman holds a red umbrella in Moscow, Russia.

Vadym Denysenko

This article was updated Aug. 24, 2023 at 5:40 p.m.


What did Wagner Group founder Yevgeny Prigozhin really want two months ago when he launched then aborted an apparent coup attempt?

At most, perhaps, Prigozhin's goal was to capture Russian Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu in Rostov-on-Don, and force him to write a letter of resignation or parade him around the southern city like a circus bear.

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But in the end, the Wagner boss got scared. He got scared of how far he had gone. It's one thing to launch a coup; it's another to wield real power. What would he do with it? Was he aiming to become president of Russia? No, with his prison background, this would have been impossible, even in a country like Russia, and he understood this.

What forced Prigozhin to act urgently back in June was the looming deadline of July 1, the date by which the mercenaries, according to the Russian authorities, had to sign contracts with the Defense Ministry. After Prigozhin was banned from recruiting prisoners, he began to run out of personnel. The 25,000 soldiers he claims would be only enough for another two months at that rate.

And that was it. The coup was over — but apparently not forgotten. Prigozhin is now presumed death after his plane crashed outside of Moscow late on Wednesday. Whether Putin was his ultimate nemesis two months, the Wagner chief paid the ultimate price for even leaving a trace of ambiguity.

Why Putin fled Moscow

Prighozin had spent nearly a year playing a political game that was driven by a desire to enter the highest echelon of the Russian elite. Polls held before his death showed a level of trust in Prigozhin of 55% and distrust of 22%, which is very high, based on building the perception that only he told the truth to the Russian people, that only he risked to be where the action was, as if he was the answer both to and for the elites.

Back in the early 2000s, in an interview, Putin described how he and his friends, walking around Leningrad as young boys, found a rat in a yard and cornered it, and the rat attacked them. It was as if he was drawing a parallel with himself.

The elites are scare, and are expecting repression

We must remember that Putin is a sociopath, with a low tolerance for pain and fear. Simply put, he is a coward, a rat who, sitting in the corner, prefers to wait, no matter how long. Waiting is his primary strategy in any unclear situation. Putin believes he is irreplaceable because Russia has no "number two" right now.

But the elites realized: Putin could no longer guarantee them either wealth or security. So they will have to look for an alternative.

They will not take any active steps now. The elites are scared, and are now expecting repression. But when the first fear passes, they will start looking around. Much will depend on how the situation at the front develops. If the Russian army suddenly pushes back Ukraine's counteroffensive, then Putin will have a relatively quiet time in the March 2024 elections. If not, the appearance of a second or third "Prigozhin," some as-yet unknown figure, is likely.

President Vladimir Putin following the Wagner insurrection.

President Vladimir Putin speaks in a video following the Wagner insurrection.

Planet Pix/Zuma

Coup and another coup

The Russian Federation has 89 territories, including the newly annexed territory in Ukraine. Only eight of them have a governor from the region itself. The central funding for the local level comes through so-called state programs, which the governor is responsible for distributing. Therefore, local elites have a straightforward choice. Or rather, there is no choice. Remember how the Soviet Union collapsed: the empire began to collapse from the peripheries.

So the only thing regional elites in Russia dream of today are decentralization, and restoring a local financing system. Of course, Moscow does not want this.

In terms of separatism, only the elites of two or three regions are theoretically ready to secede. First, Chechnya, but they don't need it. Then Yakutia, but the territory is half of Europe, and the population is only a million, so they can't pull it off.

Goodbye, Prigozhin

A memorable moment in Prighozin's final act was how people bid farewell to the Wagner fighters leaving Rostov: with enthusiastic applause. People want change, just as they did in the USSR. Taken together, we are all in favor; but individually we are against it.

Russians saw Prigozhin as someone who told the truth and a man of action. If Putin suddenly disappeared tomorrow, they would be happy. But paradoxically, Russians won't actively do anything to further this goal. They are too scared.

Repression is only possible with with fresh blood. Joseph Stalin demonstrated this.

The situation with the Wagner survivors is complicated now. Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko will not allow well-trained and armed people who do not obey him to be on his territory.

We should not expect a new round of punishments in the Kremlin. Repression is only possible with profound personnel changes and system renewal with fresh blood. Joseph Stalin demonstrated this. But elites and militaries are interconnected; they will not persecute each other.

And so Russia is left as Russia was, though now definitively minus Yevgeny Prighozin.

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The Problem With Always Blaming Climate Change For Natural Disasters

Climate change is real, but a closer look at the science shows there are many factors that contribute to weather-related disasters. It is important to raise awareness about the long-term impact of global warming, but there's a risk in overstating its role in the latest floods or fires.

People on foot, on bikes, motorcycles, scooters and cars navigate through a flooded street during the day time.

Karachi - People wade through flood water after heavy rain in a southern Pakistani city

Xinhua / ZUMA
Axel Bojanowski


BERLIN — In September, thousands of people lost their lives when dams collapsed during flooding in Libya. Engineers had warned that the dams were structurally unsound.

Two years ago, dozens died in floods in western Germany, a region that had experienced a number of similar floods in earlier centuries, where thousands of houses had been built on the natural floodplain.

Last year saw more than 1,000 people lose their lives during monsoon floods in Pakistan. Studies showed that the impact of flooding in the region was exacerbated by the proximity of human settlements, the outdated river management system, high poverty rates and political instability in Pakistan.

There are many factors that contribute to weather-related disasters, but one dominates the headlines: climate change. That is because of so-called attribution studies, which are published very quickly after these disasters to highlight how human-caused climate change contributes to extreme weather events. After the flooding in Libya, German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung described climate change as a “serial offender," while the Tageszeitung wrote that “the climate crisis has exacerbated the extreme rainfall."

The World Weather Attribution initiative (WWA) has once again achieved its aim of using “real-time analysis” to draw attention to the issue: on its website, the institute says its goal is to “analyse and communicate the possible influence of climate change on extreme weather events." Frederike Otto, who works on attribution studies for the WWA, says these reports help to underscore the urgent need for climate action. They transform climate change from an “abstract threat into a concrete one."

In the immediate aftermath of a weather-related disaster, teams of researchers rush to put together attribution studies – “so that they are ready within the same news cycle," as the New York Times reported. However, these attribution studies do not meet normal scientific standards, as they are published without going through the peer-review process that would be undertaken before publication in a specialist scientific journal. And that creates problems.

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