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Rasputin’s Shadow Spreads on Russia’s Wagner Group

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Welcome back. There is a saying that all publicity is good publicity.But does this apply to the Wagner Group, a Russian militia whose role in the war in Ukraine is controversial, let alone politics within Russia? tony.barber@ft.com.

Two incidents shed light on the Wagner Group this week. No formal legal existence, Ukraine, Syria, Libya and sub-Saharan Africa, despite operating on behalf of the Kremlin in far-flung locations. Neither incident enhanced the reputation of Wagner and his owners. Evgeny Prigoginemilitary commander, business tycoon, former prisoner and close associate of President Vladimir Putin. Known as “Putin’s Chef”.

First came news that the former Wagner fighter had flee to norwayhe promised to spill the beans about the group’s looting activities. fought in Syria and later applied for asylum in France.

In a second incident, Serbian President Aleksandr Vučić accused Russian websites and social media of Stop serving ads in Serbian The Wagner Group is looking to recruit volunteer fighters. Vucic thus argues that Serbia will continue to favor Moscow as it pursues a balanced foreign policy between Western countries, Russia and China. suggests that there are limits. Dimitar Beshev’s penetrating analysis Carnegie for Europe.

Prigogine: Rasputin 2.0?

How can one explain the growing influence of the Wagner Group and Prigogine? Likened to the role of Prigogine In the circle of close advisers of Siberian Grigory Rasputin startor saint, was a powerful and, to say the least, unconventional figure at the court of Emperor Nicholas II.

Grigory Rasputin had one quality that made him indispensable to Tsar Nicholas II and Tsar Alexandra.

This is an interesting comparison and worth a little research.

First, let me say that Prigogine is different from Rasputin. Rasputin’s influence was primarily not over the ruler of Russia, but over his wife Tsarina his Alexandra. This is explained in Brian Moynahan’s lively 1998 biography of him. Rasputin: The Sinful SaintThe Empress had failed to produce a male heir for many years, making her susceptible to the influence of Rasputin, a self-proclaimed faith healer.

Yet the comparison works in other ways. Like Rasputin, Prigogine wields influence despite holding no formal government office. Just as Alexandra’s brain was preoccupied with modern turn-of-the-century spiritualism, Putin before and during the pandemic lockdown: Mysterious pseudo-historians such as Lev Gumilev.

Like Rasputin, Prigozhin aids his master in his efforts to fulfill his most ardent wishes. The Emperor felt that he needed Rasputin’s help to stop Alexis from bleeding to death. Putin, eager to win Russia’s New War of Conquest of the Empire, allowed Prigozhin and his Wagner group to expand their military role. According to US estimatesUkraine currently has 50,000 personnel, including 10,000 contractors and 40,000 conscripted prisoners.

Of course, Rasputin came to an awkward end. According to an investigation by the Tsarist Police into his murder in 1916, he was given one dose of cyanide, three bullets in his chest, back and head, kicking and hitting his body before leaving St. Petersburg. died by drowning in the ice-cold waters of the Neva River. finish him off Prigogine lives on.

Maskirovka: the Russian way of war

A short-term reason for the Wagner Group’s attention is the demise of Putin’s military campaign.Like Chechen warlord Ramzan KadyrovPrigogine has established himself as an ardent critic of the military, bureaucratic and business elites who seem to be failing Putin with his half-hearted and incompetent approach to war.

Wagner could do better, is Prigogine’s message. In a video last Saturday, he boasted that his group had its own aircraft, tanks, rockets and artillery, adding: “They are probably the most experienced military forces that exist in the world today.” I was.

Head of the Wagner Group Evgeny Prigozhin at the funeral of Dmitry Menshikov

Wagner, led by Evgeny Prigozhin, has become increasingly prominent in the Kremlin offensive © AP

But a longer-term explanation can be found in the rich traditions of Russia and the Soviet Union. Maskirovka, which can be translated as “war by camouflage or deception”. until September Prigogine approved When he first publicly announced his founding of the Wagner Group in 2014, the organization was a prime example. Maskirovka in action.

Let’s look at image below, available on the War on the Rocks website. Shows a copy of a Soviet magazine of 1923. Krasny Maskirovsk The slogan of (The Red Deceiver) is:Maskirovka It is not only a shield, but also a Red Army sword. “

Logo and slogan of a man with a shield:
This copy of the Krasny Maskirovsk magazine dated February 1923 is from the Francis Lara collection of the International Spy Museum © War on the Rocks

From its inception, the Wagner Group Maskirovka tradition. For years, no one in the Kremlin acknowledged the group’s existence, but in reality its activities were closely linked to the Russian military and intelligence services. András Rácz wrote in 2020 for the Institute for Strategic and International Studies.

The Wagner Group’s main facility in Molkino, in southern Russia, was also the base of the Special Forces Brigade of the GRU Military Intelligence Service. In Ukraine, the Wagner group has fought side by side with the regular Russian army, this caused tension As both sides argue over who deserves credit for their recent successes.

Africa and the Wagner Group

The Wagner Group’s forces are part of what the Kremlin has described as an effort to help legitimate governments defeat rebels and jihadists in countries such as the Central African Republic and Mali. . But Russian interests and power motives are also at work.

As the FT’s David Pilling reported in December, companies associated with the Wagner Group gained control of a gold mine In CAR, as well as access to diamonds.In a Brookings Institution paper, Federica Saini Fasanotti describes Russia’s support for African governments’ counter-terrorism operations come in price — Concessions to access to natural resources, commercial contracts and strategic locations.

Even the ostensible goal of stabilizing African governments seems elusive.With this vivid report Associated Press workSam Mednick, citing diplomats, analysts and human rights groups, said that since the arrival of Russian mercenaries in Mali, Islamic extremism has grown stronger and indiscriminate violence against civilians has increased. There is

Troll of Prigogine

No description of Prigozhin’s career would be complete without mention of his troll factory, which began with the completely misleading name “Internet Research Agency”. From its St. Petersburg base, This operation spat out Conspiracy theories and misinformation, primarily for the purpose of damaging Western democracies.

For this reason, the FBI has placed Prigozhin on its wanted list in 2021 and rewarded him with up to $250,000 for information leading to his arrest.

A good book on this topic is Putin’s trollFinnish journalist Jessica Aro was ruthlessly cornered by the Kremlin-backed creatures in her book title for investigating Russian online propaganda.

Wagner’s Veterans and Politics

Does Prigogine harbor serious political ambitions of his own? dispelled such rumors last year.

But earlier this month, members of the Defense Committee of the Russian parliament suggested to Wagner veterans — even ex-con — Participating in politics can serve the country well. Indeed, the Ukrainian invasion will lead Russian public life into a very dark place.

More on this topic

Deciphering the Wagner group — a Reported by Candice Rondeau For New America/Arizona State University Future of War Project

‘We’re having a conversation’: Gangs as actors and agents in Russian foreign policy — Analysis by Mark Galeotti Journal of European and Asian Studies

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https://www.ft.com/content/1c670be7-22b0-46cc-807b-5ec90dc5dde6 Rasputin’s Shadow Spreads on Russia’s Wagner Group

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