When the world gets closer.

We help you see farther.

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter.

Already a subscriber? Log in .

You've reached your limit of one free article.

Get unlimited access to Worldcrunch

You can cancel anytime .


Exclusive International news coverage

Ad-free experience NEW

Weekly digital Magazine NEW

9 daily & weekly Newsletters

Access to Worldcrunch archives

Free trial

30-days free access, then $2.90
per month.

Annual Access BEST VALUE

$19.90 per year, save $14.90 compared to monthly billing.save $14.90.

Subscribe to Worldcrunch
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.

Stay up-to-date with the latest on the Russia-Ukraine war, with our exclusive international coverage.

Sign up to our free daily newsletter.

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.

You've reached your limit of free articles.

To read the full story, start your free trial today.

Get unlimited access. Cancel anytime.

Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.

Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries.

FOCUS: Israel-Palestine War

Turkey-Israel Relations? It's Complicated — But The Gaza War Is Different

Turkish President Erdogan has now called on the International Criminal Court to go after Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu for war crimes, as the clash between the two regional powers has reached a new low.

Photo of ​Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan walking

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Elias Kassem

Since the arrival two decades ago of now President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s relationship with Israel has been a mix of deep ideological conflict and cover-your-eyes realpolitik.

On the one hand, Erdogan has positioned himself as a kind of global spokesman for the Palestinian cause. His Justice and Development Party has long publicly and financially supported Hamas, which shares similar roots in the 20th-century Muslim Brotherhood movement.

And yet, since 2001 when Erdogan first came to power, trade between Turkey and Israel has multiplied from $1.41 to $8.9 billion in 2022. Moreover, both countries see major potential in transporting newly discovered Israeli natural gas to Europe, via Turkey.

The logic of shared interests clashes with the passions and posturing of high-stakes geopolitics. Diplomatic relations have been cut off, then restored, and since October 7, the countries’ respective ambassadors have been recalled, with accusations flying between Erdogan and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Still, over the past 48 hours, Turkish-Israeli relations may have hit an all-time low.

Keep reading...Show less

The latest