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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

Gangster Logic, Is Prigozhin Hit The Start Of Putin's Ultimate Purge?

Veterans of Wagner PMC, the mercenary group run by now-deceased Yevgeny Prigozhin, are scattered all over Russia. Many are now threatening to exact their revenge. But it is Russian President Vladimir Putin who wields the power, and there are plenty inside and outside Wagner who may be in his sights.

photo of Putin listening to an official in the Kremlin

Putin listens to acting governor of the Kherson region Vladimir Saldo during a face-to-face meeting at the Kremlin on Thursday.

Mikhail Klimentyev/Kremlin Pool/Planet Pix via ZUMA
Bartosz T. Wieliński

-Analysis-

WARSAW — It’s a country within a country, with its own military and a wide network of veterans in every large Russian city. On Telegram, many Wagner mercenaries are already making threats, saying that the killing of their leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin, was the work of “traitors to Russia," who will soon face “catastrophic consequences."

We are used to seeing a troubled Vladimir Putin. Instead of bringing about a quick win in Ukraine and a liquidation of the entire country, his invasion has led to ongoing catastrophe. It has led to the deaths of tens of thousands of soldiers, thousands of damaged tanks and helicopters, and the sinking of the Moskva, the flagship of Russia's Black Sea Fleet.

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The second-strongest army in the world has often turned out to be second-strongest when fighting in Ukraine. The sanctions imposed by the West are working, and the ruble’s value has fallen into an abyss.

Beyond the war, Russia was recently, once again, humbled on the world stage when one of its rovers failed to land on the moon — followed by a successful landing by India. Everywhere you turn, Russia’s failures are on display, which even the Kremlin's powerful disinformation and propaganda apparatus can no longer falsify.

But Putin, speaking recently in Ponyri, in the Kursk region of Russia, was beaming with joy.

Putin is consistent

The reason for his happiness is an explosion which took place 700 kilometers to the north of where he gave his speech, in the village of Kuzhenkino in Russia’s Tver region. It is the wreck of the Embraer on which Wagner leader Yevgeny Prigozhin flew from Moscow to St. Petersburg.

This Kremlin oligarch was once so close to Putin that he could serve him at dinners with world leaders, for which he earned the nickname “Putin’s Chef." With Putin’s permission, he created the Wagner Group mercenaries, which sowed death on the African continent, in Syria and Ukraine.

But Prigozhin went too far when it came to privatizing the war in Ukraine, and ended up in strong conflicts with Russian generals and with Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, finally daring to raise a hand against Putin, his once-benefactor.

The spectacular coup attempt ended in failure, and a national fiasco. Prigozhin emerged unscathed. But, two months later, he was returning from Africa to his hometown of St. Petersburg, via Moscow; his remains were identified only a few hours after the catastrophe, to Putin's apparent delight.

Putin, a former KGB officer, is consistent with his enemies. In order to kill former FSB Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Litvinenko, Russian agents smuggled a quantity of radioactive polonium — 10 times the lethal dose — to the UK, where Litvinenko had sought refuge. In 2006, Litvinenko died after suffering the effects of the poisoning for several days. The signal was clear: Putin’s enemies are ruthlessly removed.

Sergei Skripal and Alexei Navalny, on the other hand, were poisoned with Novichok. This is a substance classified as a weapon of mass destruction, which is produced only by Russia. For Russians and the international community, the message was the same.

Close up photograph of Wagner Group founder Yevgeny Prigozhin.

Russia, Vladivostok - May 31, 2023: Wagner Group founder Yevgeny Prigozhin attends a presentation event for the PMC Wagner Second Front youth outreach project.

TASS/ZUMA

What's next for Wagner? 

Members of the Wagner Group say that Prigozhin’s plane was shot down by Russian air defense using a surface-to-air missile. In spectacular, brutal, uncompromising fashion, Putin has eliminated yet another enemy, showing that he will stop at nothing.

Putin is an alumnus of the Russian criminal underworld, after all.

"Judgment Day" is underway in Russia. The assassination of Prigozhin coincided with the official dismissal of Air Force Commander Sergei Surovikin, who was allegedly supporting Wagner as well.

The question now is whether Putin will allow him to die a natural death, or whether he will once again conjure up a spectacular ending.

And what about Ivan Girkin, a former FSB officer who criticized Putin and led to the separation of part of the Donbas from Ukraine nine years ago? Criticism was passed over in the Kremlin, but after Prigozhin's coup, everything changed.

Girkin will wait for his trial, after which he may be sentenced to 20 years in prison. Will officers find him hanging in his cell on their morning rounds?

More important than these questions, however, is what will happen to the Wagner Group. The gangster logic that Putin follows would require the Wagnerians to be wiped out, so that no one would dare raise a hand against him again.

The question now is: will the Russian security apparatus, which has proved itself unable to defend the capital from Ukrainian drones, be able to carry out another great purge?

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Future

Livestream Shopping Is Huge In China — Will It Fly Elsewhere?

Streaming video channels of people shopping has been booming in China, and is beginning to win over customers abroad as a cheap and cheerful way of selling products to millions of consumers glued to the screen.

A A female volunteer promotes spring tea products via on-line live streaming on a pretty mountain surrounded by tea plants.

In Beijing, selling spring tea products via on-line live streaming.

Xinhua / ZUMA
Gwendolyn Ledger

SANTIAGO — TikTok, owned by Chinese tech firm ByteDance, has spent more than $500 million to break into online retailing. The app, best known for its short, comical videos, launched TikTok Shop in August, aiming to sell Chinese products in the U.S. and compete with other Chinese firms like Shein and Temu.

Tik Tok Shop will have three sections, including a live or livestream shopping channel, allowing users to buy while watching influencers promote a product.

This choice was strategic: in the past year, live shopping has become a significant trend in online retailing both in the U.S. and Latin America. While still an evolving technology, in principle, it promises good returns and lower costs.

Chilean Carlos O'Rian Herrera, co-founder of Fira Onlive, an online sales consultancy, told América Economía that live shopping has a much higher catchment rate than standard website retailing. If traditional e-commerce has a rate of one or two purchases per 100 visits to your site, live shopping can hike the ratio to 19%.

Live shopping has thrived in China and the recent purchases of shopping platforms in some Latin American countries suggests firms are taking an interest. In the United States, live shopping generated some $20 billion in sales revenues in 2022, according to consultants McKinsey. This constituted 2% of all online sales, but the firm believes the ratio may become 20% by 2026.

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