Prigozhin: Mysterious Death Shows Barbarity, Abnormality of Russia under Putin

The mastermind of the mutiny against the administration of Russian President Vladimir Putin has met a mysterious end. The truth remains dark, but there is a strong possibility that he was assassinated. It comes as yet another reminder of the cruelty and abnormality of the authoritarian regime.

Putin expressed his condolences, saying that Yevgeny Prigozhin, founder of the Russian private military company Wagner, had died.

Earlier, a private jet believed to have been carrying Prigozhin and others crashed in Russia. The deaths of all on board have been confirmed.

It is widely believed that the crash was caused by an intentional explosion or something similar, and that Prigozhin was assassinated. A U.S. Defense Department spokesman said, “It’s likely Prigozhin was killed.” U.S. President Joe Biden said of the crash, “I’m not surprised.”

Prigozhin’s influence on the Russian administration had been growing on the back of Wagner’s achievements in the invasion of Ukraine. In June this year, he and fighters under his command revolted, demanding the dismissal of the defense minister and others who had tried to bring Wagner under the ministry’s control.

While rejecting the demand, Putin seemed to ignore Prigozhin’s responsibility in an attempt to settle the mess. However, given Putin’s approach to governing, in which he has not tolerated traitors and has brutally eliminated his political opponents, it is not surprising that Prigozhin ended up as he did.

The plane that crashed also had Wagner’s cofounder on board. A senior Russian military officer who was close to Prigozhin and was allegedly aware of his mutiny plans was removed from his position as commander of the Russian Aerospace Forces. As a result, elements close to Prigozhin have been all but wiped out.

The images of the crashed plane shown on state television and Putin’s message of condolence can be taken as a warning that this is what will happen in the end if anti-government activities are carried out. The Russian public will take it as a “lesson” from the administration.

Wagner had sent tens of thousands of prison inmates to fight on the front lines in Ukraine, and had also sent personnel to such locations as the African country of Mali under the guise of maintaining security, having gained concessions in natural resource mining and other businesses.

As the Russian president, Putin had built a relationship of interdependence by having Wagner carry out activities that the government was not able to conduct overtly. Going forward, Putin will probably try to take control of Wagner, including its concessions.

Even if he is able to tighten his grip on the regime, the current situation, reminiscent of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin’s purges of his political opponents, has left a strong impression on the international community of Putin’s cruelty. It has become difficult for him to carry out diplomacy with other national leaders, and his deepening isolation is inevitable.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Aug. 26, 2023)