John Varoli on Prigozhin and Putin and the Wild Weekend in Russia [Video]

John offers a distinctly different point of view from what is shaping up to be some sort of dominant narrative. There is a real point to reading this.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of this site. This site does not give financial, investment or medical advice.

I have had the great blessing of getting directly in touch with John Varoli, whose pieces are often reprinted here. His substack presence is a must-have for those of us interested in Russian and American geopolitics.

Here, he offers a very different point of view contrasted with what appears to be a prevailing narrative about Evgeniy Prigozhin’s activity over the past weekend. I believe this is instructive to all of us and for me in particular, the divergence of opinions between Mr. Varoli and Scott Ritter, for example, drives home one very particular point:

We don’t know what happened, nor do we know why it happened.

Since the crisis of Friday and Saturday just past, my own action has simply been to report what I know, and to comment on other people’s reports in faith that what they are saying is true and reliable. However, for me there is no clear understanding of exactly what happened between Evgeniy Prigozhin, President Putin, President Lukashenko, and anyone else. This is a mystery and it seems that the safest move for history’s sake is to wait and see what develops, and not to sensationalize or engage in speculation. I will comment on this piece at the end, but first, I simply wish to present it to the reader. I think it is very useful to compare it with the Scott Ritter piece I reprinted here, and to do some heavy thinking about both. As often happens, it is quite likely that both these men are onto certain elements correctly, while possibly not being correct on others.

John Varoli’s piece is presented here in full, with no editing or emphases added by me unless there is a spelling error or a punctuation error. Most of the time with Mr. Varoli’s work, there are no such corrections to make, for he is a professional correspondent.


Putin and Prigozhin: 30 years of a durable bond

The ‘St. Petersburg group’ has been the most powerful force in the Kremlin since 2000. Prigozhin and Putin share that bond, friendly since the mid 1990s. Think of Wagner as Putin’s praetorian guard.

President Putin and Yevgeny Prigozhin in 2000 in St. Petersburg

The tumult in Russia this weekend generated much hysteria and confusion. Western journalists, writing far from the events, published the usual nonsense, promoting the idea that President Putin is loosing power and Russia will descend into civil war. But even pro-Russian analysts indulged in reckless speculation. Scott Ritter falsely claimed that Yevgeny Prigozhin, the Wagner group owner, is a NATO agent.

On the surface, this ‘mutiny’ was a conflict between Prigozhin and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. In fact, Prigozhin called it “the March of Justice”. Tensions between the two men have simmered for months, with Prigozhin often berating Shoigu and his generals on social media. Such outrageous behavior is unheard of and indicates that Prigozhin enjoys patronage that exceeds Shoigu. That can only mean one person.

Prigozhin acts confidently because he is a member of Putin’s inner circle. I doubt that this ‘mutiny’ was spontaneous, allegedly instigated by a Russian army missile attack against Wagner troops. I suspect that Prigozhin was acting according to a plan with the tacit or even active involvement of Putin. But towards what goal?

Wagner is the world’s most effective private military, serving nearly a decade as Putin’s praetorian guard — a highly loyal force that the President counts on to project Russian power abroad, and turn the tide on the battlefield against NATO/Ukrainian invaders in besieged Donbass.

Wagner troops in Rostov on Saturday

If Prigozhin didn’t have such close relations with Putin, he’d have been jailed long ago. Remember: Russian law doesn’t even allow private military groups. Technically, Wagner shouldn’t exist. But it does, and the answer to “How” is quite obvious.

So, what happened this weekend in Rostov, which is home to the Southern Military District? Based on available information I conclude that Prigozhin carried out an important task for Putin. But what exactly?

Perhaps the task was to weed out a corrupt and disloyal fifth column in the government and military. In fact, in a recent public meeting Putin referred to incompetent generals, hinting that their days are numbered.

Or perhaps the ‘mutiny’ this weekend was an attempt to conduct confusing troop movements. The biggest problem Russia faces is NATO’s powerful surveillance capabilities. The enemy is aware of nearly every movement by the Russian military.

Also, this morning there are reports that Wagner is building a huge base in Belarus. Perhaps Wagner’s deployment to Belarus is an attempt to stop NATO efforts to overthrow President Alexander Lukashenko. Either way, NATO is panicking.

Oddly enough, Wagner continues to aggressively recruit new soldiers. The ‘mutiny’ has stimulated more Russian men to protect their Motherland. What a strange ‘mutiny’! The mutineers are allowed to grow even more powerful.

I don’t want to speculate any more about this ‘mutiny’ because events are still developing. Instead, I’d like to focus on important facts that have been forgotten or ignored, but which are vital in order to understand the context of this weekend’s events. Then, you can make your own conclusion.

Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu

  1. Putin and Prigozhin have known each other at least since the mid 1990s. Both were born and raised in Leningrad (St. Petersburg). The locals share a special bond because of the city’s grandeur and eventful history. However, despite the city’s reputation as a cultural capital with a world-class intelligentsia, it’s also an industrial center with a sizable working-class. Privileged or not, all residents of Leningrad/St. Petersburg share a fierce love for their city and are raised with traditions and values that you won’t find anywhere else in Russia or the world.
  2. While their young lives had different trajectories, both Putin and Prigozhin were molded by Leningrad’s rough post-War street culture where loyalty and one’s word of honor were vital to remain alive and thrive. How these men behave today is based on a shared understanding of strength, honor, respect and justice. If a man breaks his word and compromises his honor, then he’s finished. These concepts are entirely foreign to the western mind, with its obsession on legal contracts, NDAs and strict bureaucratic procedures.
  3. Eventually, Putin went to work at the KGB and was stationed in Germany. The young Prigozhin went into crime and spent most of the 1980s in prison for theft. They operated in the same world, but on different sides of the barricade. In the 1990s, Prigozhin became a successful businessman. In 1995, he opened the city’s first upscale restaurant, Staraya Tamozhnya, where the local elite dined. Putin became Mayor Anatoly Sobchak’s deputy in charge of external relations, handling visits of foreign dignitaries and businessmen. When you wanted to impress your foreign guests, you took them to Prigozhin’s Staraya Tamozhnya.

    Wagner Group HQ in St. Petersburg


  4. In the late 1990s, Prigozhin founded Concord Catering, which handled all the high-level state and private banquets in St. Petersburg. (I sometimes attended these). Again, Prigozhin rubbed shoulders with the city’s most powerful people, many of whom soon joined Putin in Moscow and became Russia’s new elite, the so-called “St. Petersburg group”. Prigozhin has been close to the Russian power elite for about 25 to 30 years. If you’re in the “St. Petersburg group”, then you’re the elite of the elite. This is a brotherhood of sorts, with common forged experiences from childhood through the wild 1990s and beyond.
  5. When Putin became president on Dec 31, 1999, he quickly gathered his loyalists from St. Petersburg. In early 2000, I interviewed one of those loyalists, Vladimir Kozhin. He told me: “The president has many things to do in a short period of time, and it’s crucial for him to know that he has people he can count on and trust.” And so, St. Petersburg-born Prigozhin eventually became Putin’s fixer of sorts, the go-to-guy in tough situations at home and abroad.
  6. Fast forward to 2014, when Prigozhin founded the Wagner private military group. Russian law does not allow for such groups, yet somehow Prigozhin was able to create the company. Since then, Wagner has led the most sensitive military operations for the Kremlin, especially in Syria and in Africa. The goal — to project Russian power abroad for the first time since the collapse of the USSR. Wagner has been a key asset, working in the Central African Republic, Libya, Mali, Sudan, etc. This means that Prigozhin has a direct line to the Kremlin.

    The locals in Rostov welcomed Wagner troops this weekend


  7. Wagner soldiers are very patriotic. Many are vets with close ties to comrades in the regular army. Wagner’s victory in Bakhmut is Russia’s most significant victory in this war. Wagner pinned down and destroyed vast amounts of NATO/ Ukrainian resources. Do you think war heroes would mutiny against Putin, their Commander-in-Chief? Wagner troops command immense respect among the Russian people. This weekend, journalist Alina Lipp was in Rostov and she spoke with the Wagner troops, saying they were very friendly and not at all aggressive.
  8. Finally, Prigozhin is a master of media manipulation who loves to troll and mess with the minds of the West. One is never sure when he’s telling the truth, or being sarcastic and simply mocking his opponents. In March, when a Wall Street Journal employee was arrested on charges of spying, Prigozhin commented: “I’ll check my torture chambers to see he’s there.” Prigozhin has a PR and media management company that was accused of interfering in U.S. elections by weaponizing social media. Such an operation must have had tacit approval from the President.

If Prigozhin truly was a threat to the President, then he’d have been arrested months ago, and he wouldn’t have left Rostov a free man in the wake of very odd negotiations that led to a quick resolution of the ‘mutiny’, allowing him and the Wagner army to find ‘refuge’ in allied Belarus.

What really happened this weekend might become fully evident in the coming weeks, or perhaps never. But as we can see from the above, Prigozhin has long been deeply embedded in Putin’s inner circle and has conducted highly sensitive operations for the Kremlin.

Until new information appears that might refute what I’m saying, I’ll go with the idea that this weekend Prigozhin acted in the interests of Russia on behalf of his old friend from St. Petersburg.

The only obstacle I found to being able to completely accept Mr. Varoli’s train of thought is itself rather vague and speculative. There are reports that Wagner forces engaged some military aircraft, downing them, and by some reports, killing some twelve soldiers. However, even this report is all but lost in what has to be a very deliberately arranged muddle of information.

However, the aggregate of points made here are very compelling. Certainly Mr. Prigozhin is a master of media messaging; he is flamboyant, interesting to observe and follow, and he offers a lot of entertainment value to many in Russia who support the war effort (and that appears to be most of the people in Russia!). Yet for many of these people, myself included, it is easy to read his actions as being “against President Putin” and, hence, the mutiny allegation.

After this, all I am personally left with is speculation. Speculation is not news, and writing about it carries the danger that it would be treated as news, so it may not be wise to opine on this, simply because the initial presumptions may turn out to be entirely wrong if and when their exact nature is understood.

The interesting thing is that here in Russia, life goes on. On Telegram, an interesting comment from R.Politik, which I will end this piece with:

Here are a few observations at the end of today:

1️⃣ Yevgeny Prigozhin made his first statement since the mutiny: he does not appear downtrodden at all, continues to make political statements, and is now appealing more confidently to public support. The Kremlin has yet to find a way to deal with him – this is not the end.

2️⃣ Authorities are divided on what to do about Wagner. Some, like Kartapolov or Starovoit, have defended Wagner, while others, like Sobolev (and the Defense Ministry behind him), insist on its disarmament. This division is a result of Putin’s lack of a coherent position, which he will need to formulate.

3️⃣ Social networks are filled with sparkling humour – people are treating the entire situation as a circus and collectively ridicule Putin, Shoigu, Prigozhin, and anyone else they can think of.

4️⃣ Although Prigozhin has retreated, he is now a figure of a completely different scale. Putin will need to address this, weighing all the risks of a possible negative reaction from Prigozhin’s sympathizers among the nation at large.

5️⃣ The elites may have exhaled a sigh of relief, but they remain in a state of silent shock. Many are grappling with how fragile the entire ‘construction’ has proven to be. Asking themselves the question, how was it possible to get out of such mutiny unpunished, many come to realize that much more is now allowed than might have seemed.

Let’s keep watching and listening.


The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of this site. This site does not give financial, investment or medical advice.

What do you think?

Notify of
1 Comment
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Prigozhin Must Fear for His Life

The crimes of NATO soldiers in the Baltics reignites old discussions