08/26/2023, 09.50
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The Russian War of Street Gangs

by Stefano Caprio

Prigozhin's ghost, dead or alive, will hover over Russia for a long time to come, as indeed happened with so many tsars and tsarevichs of the past. After the "conquest of Bakhmut" - a meaningless clash of months and months transformed into a heroic legend - the narration of the "alternative army" no longer held up the scene, and mythology showed all its inconsistency.

In the end Vladimir Putin achieved his victory. Even if offensives and counter-offensives remain bogged down and contradictory with Ukraine, what matters is having defeated the internal enemies, symbolically represented by the shady figures of "cook" Evgenij Prigožin and his trusted "Mr. Wagner," cutthroat leader Dmitry Utkin, who were smashed and charred in the explosion of the business-jet flying from Moscow to their native St. Petersburg, the birthplace of all contenders.

It is the war of the gopniki, the "street bandits" according to a jargon dating back to the underworld of the Soviet years, the real conflict that has been going on for 30 years in "all of Russia."  

Putin is the most powerful of all the gopniki, whether he really took out the one who just two months ago had threatened to evict him from the Kremlin, with the so-called "march from TikTok," or whether this is yet another lowbrow action movie skit, like those of his actor friend Steven Seagal, and that in reality only Prigožin and Utkin's doppelgangers are among the charred bodies.

One awaits the investigation, which according to Putin's promise will be "very thorough," and then one can imagine other manipulations, not even DNA evidence can be blindly believed; after all, the "cook" is (was) also the "king of trolls" and fake news.

The effect does not change, underground or in the Maldives is the same, only the supreme gopnik remains, who thanks to the downed or hidden former or non-former friend, was able to out all the unwelcome commanders and generals, who criticized him for weakness in the war against the Ukronazis.Many wonder why Putin waited two months to stage the great revenge, on the precise date as he likes it, lover of symbolic days.

The question has two dimensions: why he waited so long, and why he waited so little. Two months is a long time if it was to avert the danger of a coup d'état, too short if it was just revenge, a dish traditionally to be served cold, a law always respected by the Kremlin's godfather, who is used to taking out enemies and the inconvenient when no one pays attention anymore, as witnessed by the long list of "excellent assassins," now exhumed by the entire international press.

In the first case, one thinks that time was all that was needed to adjust business in Africa and relocate the "musicians" to Belarus; in the second, it seems that Putin is no longer able to contain himself, and his hysteria attests to an increasingly blatant weakness, anything but a show of strength.

Be that as it may, the Rosaviatsija air agency reported minutes after the crash and without hesitation that Prigožin and Utkin were on the list of ten passengers on the jet, which collapsed a stone's throw from Putin's residence-bunker near Tver.

The first assumption was that the plane had been shot down by an anti-aircraft missile, in a scenario worthy of the war tragedies of the past eighteen months. Later we turned to the more prosaic suitcase of explosives hidden in some meanderings on board, and even the live pictures of the vertical collapse, which were immediately broadcast, seemed of poor script. Prigožin's death, in fact, neither his friends nor his enemies believe, and his specter, dead or alive, will hover over Russia for a long time to come, as indeed it did with so many tsars and tsarevichs of the past.

The traitor Griša Otrepev, during the "turmoil" in the early seventeenth century, claimed to be Ivan the Terrible's youngest son, Prince Dmitry, who choked to death while playing shooting gallery, due to guilt attributed to the regent Boris Godunov.

The insurgent Cossack Emelian Pugačev in the late eighteenth century posed as Tsar Peter III, done away with by his wife, Tsarina Catherine II, and even Tsar Alexander I, the victor over Napoleon, seems to have faked his death to escape the conflicts of nineteenth-century Russia by sheltering in the Siberian tajga as a hermit, the starets Fyodor Kuzmič.

This is just to stick to the most egregious cases evoked in so many poems and novels of great Russian literature, even in some of the art films of Andrei Tarkovsky and others.

The fate of the false czars, the wandering aliases, the samozvantsy (self-appointed) who want to put themselves forward as saviors of the Fatherland or the whole world, is a side effect of the deified autocracy, which distributes angels and demons in the shadows of its exasperations and frailties, as was the case in the time of the pharaohs of Egypt and the emperors of Rome.

After all, the "death of Prigožin" is also a recent classic of Russia's heroic adventures. It was first announced in October 2019 in the Congo, where an An-72 military cargo plane with eight people on board had already crashed, and the head of Wagner was given to be among the passengers, only to find out later that he was not among them.

Last year it had been reported on several Telegram channels that the "cook" had died during the clashes in Lugansk, but soon he himself had reappeared with his mocking smile, the hardest part for his four official look-alikes to imitate, and for who knows how many others.

Blowing up one's opponent was then the usual practice of the Russian mafia groups of the 1990s, vying for the power and business vacuum left by the collapse of the regime, and this is precisely the soil from which such malignant plants as Putin's and Prigožin's have sprouted.

In such a context, comments in favor of the various conspiracy texts for or against the protagonists of the affair are rampant on Russian social networks, and not only from compulsive users of the digital universe, but also from more or less authoritative voices.

Noted journalist Konstantin Eggert speaks of "Al Capone style with ballistic missiles" of what appears to be "an extra-judicial public condemnation of ten Russian citizens by army means," and never mind that "these citizens were in fact a reject of society."

The grotesque attack, according to Eggert, makes it clear that "the leader is not a president, but a bandit with torture irons as in the 1990s, from which he himself to this day claims he wants to save us." Instead of solving the systemic crisis that followed the end of the Soviet regime, Putin has only prolonged it indefinitely. Editor and political scientist Sergei Parkhomenko believes that Prigožin "buried himself in the Philippines or Paraguay."

Writer Mikhail Ševelev notes that Prigožin's "only guarantee of survival was the three tons of compromising dossiers he collected in his career as a criminal plutocrat. There's the entire Rublevo-Uspenskoe šosse [the avenue of the powerful] there...if scandals come out it may mean either that the cook has changed residence, or that someone else is using them to take out the inconvenient, let's get the popcorn and wait to see who the beneficiary is."

Pro-Putin and pro-war commentators, for the most part, try to attribute the attack to Ukrainians or Americans, "right on Ukraine's Independence Day," observes MP and Putin adviser Sergey Markov. The "polit-technologist" Marat Baširov, a former member of the Lugansk government, believes that "events on the African continent, in Niger in particular, pose a great threat to the interests of the U.S. and France," and Prigožin was allegedly shot to prevent Wagner from spadronizing those latitudes.

One of the leading voenkory, the "war correspondents," Evgenij Poddubnyj from Belgorod, says he is certain that Prigožin's assassination is a maneuver by Kiev and its "information-psychological structure" in order to "increase the pressure on Russian society" after the Wagner march on Moscow was shaken, and of course in this there is the support of "the mainstream media of the collective West," which coordinates with the Ukrainians.

BBC correspondent Ilja Barabanov recalls that "in literature there is the concept of ring composition," the repetition of certain elements at the beginning and end of a work, a kind of "biblical inclusion" recalling various episodes of "elimination of the superfluous" by Wagner members, until their leader became a "superfluous" himself.

Writer and political scientist Kirill Rogov reads the affair as a satisfactio exerciti, after Prigožin had humiliated the military leaders for a year by shouting all sorts of accusations at them, claiming that "the life of a single Wagner fighter is worth much more than twenty professional soldiers in the Russian army."

The march on Moscow in favor of public social, Rogov recalls, had resulted in the deaths of precisely 20 soldiers, killed only "for demonstration purposes," and one cannot remain at the top of the Armed Forces of Greater Russia and "be insulted with impunity by a recommended thug, who by trade brings lunch to school children."

The "myth of Prigožin" had built up in the spring-summer of 2022, when the demoralized Russian army did not know how to correct the absurd Putinian initiative to invade and conquer Ukraine in no time. Then the "cook" offered the leader the alternative of the "myth of the alternative army," which could replace the official one and achieve the desired results, in defiance of all generals.

After the "conquest of Bakhmut," a meaningless months-long confrontation turned into heroic legend, this narrative no longer held sway, and the mythology showed all its flimsiness. Putin won, proving that the law of Russia is now only the law of the jungle.


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