Note that during the mentioned attack in Belgorod Region, rumors arose about the possibility of an emergency meeting of Russia’s Security Council. However, it turned out that its key members were busy with international matters: Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin was in China, Dmitri Medvedev was on a visit to Laos and Vietnam, and Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev was meeting with representatives of “third world” special services outside Moscow.Prigozhin: front man or trendsetter?
Another surprise in May was a serious expansion of the boundaries of what is acceptable on the public agenda. In particular, this was about a high-profile exception to the rules – Yevgeny Prigozhin, the founder of the Wagner private military company. He put out a series of very sharp and ambiguous statements criticizing
the current situation, the behavior of the elite and the leadership of the armed forces, somewhat reminiscent of the rhetoric of Igor Strelkov, Alexei Navalny, and even the early Boris Yeltsin during his fall in the late 1980s.
Prigozhin’s statements regarding the Ukraine conflict have also been very contradictory: from different angles, they can look like both unambiguous support and distancing – a signal of doubt about the advisability of further escalation given the fuzziness of Moscow’s results so far.
Experts, who have missed public domestic politics and colorful, independent statements – which have all but disappeared since the beginning of the war – have put forward a number of hypotheses about Prigozhin’s activity (see also Nikolai Petrov
in Russia.Post). Here are just a few:
1) Prigozhin is acting as a front man for influential political groups fighting to further weaken the position of the Ministry of Defense. The goal could be a change at the top or publicly setting up a scapegoat for potential setbacks in the event of an effective counteroffensive by Ukraine.
2) Prigozhin is trying to “refresh” the dried-up political agenda – one of the reasons being that he possibly wants to be among the key speakers for the presidential campaign – to revitalize politics or to make the current leadership look moderate against the backdrop of “radicals” and thus potentially more attractive for the majority. Meanwhile, by speaking about the ineffectiveness of the war effort, Prigozhin is appealing to critically minded voters, trying to convince them again of the need for the conflict with Ukraine.
3) Faced with internal problems or acting with an eye to the future, Prigozhin can also prepare public opinion for military setbacks, with the blame being directed toward the leadership of the Ministry of Defense, in order to prevent Vladimir Putin’s ratings from falling.
With all the rationality of the above assumptions, it is important to note that Prigozhin’s style is extremely unusual amid the current, lifeless politics, while the tools he uses (interviews and trips to the capitals of federal districts) look like elements of a political show.
This naturally causes ferment among some of the elites, who are trying to figure out whether there is a real crack in the ranks of the jingoist lobby or whether it boils down to political manipulation or an addiction to media attention on the part of Prigozhin himself.
The popular thesis that the Kremlin purposefully seeks to use Prigozhin to help control the camp of “angry patriots
,” dissatisfied with the slow pace and lack of results of the special operation, looks rather dubious.
Although the term “angry patriots” has become widespread, at least some sociologists question the size of this group. Their potential influence on the apathetic ordinary man, who is generally indifferent to the issues of war and peace, is also not obvious. The official agenda does indeed ignore many high-profile issues in relation to Ukraine.