Toward the end of his career, Wallenstein found himself embroiled in a war against Sweden, the mightiest military force of the time. Granting Wallenstein full autonomy from the imperial headquarters, Ferdinand II hoped to resolve the Swedish threat. However, Wallenstein suffered significant defeats against the Swedes and began negotiating with the emperor's enemies to end the war, possibly with the intention of establishing his own state or even marching against Ferdinand II. In 1634, the emperor sought to preempt the impending military revolt by issuing a patent to revoke Wallenstein's authority. In response, Wallenstein secured personal oaths of loyalty from all his officers and defiantly conveyed to Ferdinand II that he disagreed with him, disregarded the order and would continue fighting for what he believed was in the best interest of the empire. Wallenstein had already begun preparations for a new campaign when assassins, acting on behalf of his officers, abruptly ended his ambitions to become a king in his own right.How can a feudal paradigm inform our understanding of future scenarios?
First, all feudal actors within such a system are driven by personal interests and ambitions, highlighting their inclination toward redistributing power and resources from the weaker factions, even if the weakest is the emperor himself. Prigozhin's “march on Moscow” reveals that the “king's” authority is vulnerable, and will force Putin to cede power to the feuding factions to secure their loyalty for the time being.
Second, feudals have the potential to strike separate agreements with international actors. Though there is a possibility
that Prigozhin engaged in negotiations with Ukraine behind Putin's back, he did manage to avoid Wallenstein's fate and started a rebellion ahead of time (the perfect timing would be after a defeat at the front, but there’s no defeat in sight – and, besides, Prigozhin was in a rush, hardly in a position to wait for the right moment).
Third, it is important to consider the possibility that Prigozhin may be an instrument rather than the ultimate beneficiary of the revolt. As seen in historical cases such as Cardinal Richelieu's manipulation of both the emperor and Wallenstein, a third party, either external to Russia or within the Kremlin itself, could be controlling Prigozhin's operations and reaping the benefits.
Fourth, the feudal battles end only with a decisive victory of one side over the other, and as long as Putin is in the Kremlin and Prigozhin is still alive the conflict is far from over.
Finally, the political system under Putin's rule is undergoing a major transformation, and the exact nature of its evolution remains uncertain. The ongoing power struggles and shifting alliances within the feudal framework will undoubtedly shape the path of this transformation.
These general observations about the functioning of feudal-like political regimes suggest that Prigozhin's march on Moscow initiated an internal power struggle resembling a feudal battle. A group of the elites with the ability to utilize both domestic and possibly limited international means to exert pressure on Putin is currently reducing his power. Their ultimate goal is victory, leaving Putin with no choice but to submit or risk his own life. It seems that so far that Putin is opting for the former, but we do not have enough information to say for sure.
As is often the case when analyzing authoritarian states with limited available information, one should turn to historical parallels for understanding. While we await further information on Prigozhin's revolt, it could be valuable to explore Friedrich Schiller's Wallenstein
(1799), a play that delves into a strikingly similar feudal conflict.
In tatters we see lying these days an
Old solid form once given Europe
By peace 150 years ago
Into the midst of that war now the poet
Places you. Sixteen years of laying waste,
Of robbing, snatching, misery have flown by.
Over the earth dark masses swarm and seethe;
No hope of peace glows even from a distance;
Against this gloomy ground an undertaking
Of bold exuberance and a dauntless, rash,
And daring character stand out in contrast.
You know him: the man who made brave armies,
The idol of his men, scourge of the countryside,
The Kaiser’s best man and his nemesis,
The child of Fortune, her adventurous son, who,
Exalted by the favor of the times,
Ascended quickly to the highest honor
And, unappeased, still striving onward, upward,
Fell victim to his ravenous ambition.