Yevgeny Prigozhin, known as ‘Putin’s chef’, has cooked up something new, putting to shame every military strategist in history, starting with Sun Tzu (d. 496 BC).
Prigozhin, a close confidant of Putin, got his name because his catering businesses used to host Putin’s state dinners. But as a true polymath, Prigozhin has branched out into unrelated areas.
Thus he has founded the Internet Research Agency (IRA), the world’s biggest trolling network employing hundreds of reprobate boffins. Push a button, and their computers whirr into action, flooding the waves with Putin’s lies.
The latest one is that the Ukrainians are fighting so courageously because they are really androids, genetically modified in US laboratories. Early in the war, the IRA talked about specially bred killer birds, but the android story is a definite step up.
That Russian answer to Renaissance man has also founded a network of Private Military Companies (PMCs) called Wagner. Prigozhin’s Wagnerians are mercenaries used by Putin for especially dirty tasks. Even before they moved into the Ukraine, they had committed ghastly war crimes in Africa and Syria, which was excellent training for their present activities.
Yet Wagner shares the problem of all Russian units: it’s running out of manpower, and recruitment is difficult. The promise of looted fridges and raped women doubtless appeals to the multitudes, but rumours of growing casualties are off-putting.
No solution to the problem seems obvious, but Prigozhin didn’t get where he is by sticking to the obvious. Sun Tzu titled his seminal book The Art of War, but he didn’t anticipate the arrival of ‘Putin’s chef’ who invented a whole new genre.
Prigozhin, accompanied by armed bodyguards, has started touring prison camps to recruit murderers, bandits, rapists and even the odd cannibal. Fight with Wagner for six months, he promises, and your slate is wiped clean. You can choose between staying on or going home, but one thing he can guarantee: there’s no return to prison.
The logic is solid. If the war is turning Russian soldiers into criminals, why not turn criminals into Russian soldiers? They may not know much about combat tactics, but they already know how to kill, rape and loot. What more can you expect from cannon fodder?
Some hidden camera footage of Prigozhin addressing convicts at a camp in Yoshkar-Ola is currently making the rounds. His message is rousing.
Not everyone will come back alive, says Prigozhin with seductive honesty. But those who do will be free men who have paid their debts to the state.
Should the recruits be killed, they’ll be buried with honours. Such an outcome is highly possible: “our war is difficult” and “we are expending 2.5 times more ordnance than at Stalingrad”. And oh yes, those who arrive at the front and then decide to change their min will be summarily shot for desertion.
Anyone aged over 18 and under 50 is welcome to join up, generally speaking. But particularly robust over-50s are welcome too, provided they can pass a simple test during the interview.
Now, the official term for the bandit raid on the Ukraine is a ‘special military operation’, not ‘war’. Anyone who speaks out of turn and calls it ‘war’ risks joining those convicts for up to five years. So technically speaking Prigozhin is breaking the law, but mentioning such trivialities in the Russian context is silly.
Some other matters are less silly and trivial. For Prigozhin has no official capacity in government. And yet he is allowed to lead armed men into prisons and promise presidential pardons to the convicts if they do as they are told.
I can’t imagine offhand that sort of thing in any civilised country, but then Russia has forfeited every last claim to that modifier. Neither can she be accused of prudent foresight.
At present up to 10,000 convicts are already fighting with Wagner and more will come in soon. At first, most of them were doing time for murder, banditry or robbery, but they have now been augmented by a sex crime unit (don’t you just love the sound of it?).
Now how do you imagine real Russian officers feel, provided that breed isn’t extinct? They have spent years studying Sun Tzu, Alexander the Great, Hannibal, Suvorov and Clausewitz. They have been indoctrinated in patriotism, taught leadership and the importance of martial honour.
And now not only do they see their soldiers committing blood-curdling atrocities, but their ranks are also swelling with Yahoos who did such things even in peacetime. Who cares about their feelings? I can hear you ask, and you are right. Certainly not Putin.
Nor does he care about the feelings of his own policemen, investigators and judges who caught and convicted those criminals. I can’t imagine them feeling elated about all their good work being stamped in the dirt, along with the law itself.
But what happens after the war ends, no matter how it ends? Hundreds of thousands of murderers, bandits and rapists, including those who have already been convicted for such crimes, will be hastily demobilised.
Those recruited out of prisons won’t go back there – I’m sure Prigozhin is a man of his word. But where will they go? Along with the lads who had never broken any laws before the war, but murdered, robbed, tortured and raped with gusto during it?
Are they going to become systems analysts and civil engineers? Or will they flood the streets of Russian cities where they’ll go on committing the same atrocities without skipping a beat? Do you think they’ll see a valid difference between their Ukrainian victims and fellow Russians? Quite.
The Russian Empire was subverted and corrupted by the Bolsheviks and other Lefties. But it was physically brought down in 1917 by armed deserters, soldiers returning from the battles of the First World War and those undergoing training in Petersburg and Moscow.
But let me tell you: those men were little angels compared to Putin’s and Prigozhin’s bandits pretending to be soldiers. The screams of their victims in their ears, the smell of cordite in their nostrils and the taste of blood in their mouths, they’ll do to the denizens of Voronezh, Tula and Rostov what they did to those of Bucha, Mariupol and Kharkov.
Prigozhin’s Wagner may be the most combat-worthy unit in the Russian army, but it isn’t the only PMC. Gen. Zolotov’s Russian Guards and Kadyrov’s Chechen militants are also doing their best at the behest of their commanders to whom they are fiercely loyal.
A potential is vast not only for a post-war crime wave the likes of which even Russia has never seen, but also for a nice civil war. When a country’s army is run by war lords, who in this case hate one another, and all of whom are loathed by the FSB and the regular army, sparks will fly – and no one will be left unsinged.
The so-called collapse of the Soviet Union was in effect a transfer of power from the Party to the KGB – but not only to the KGB. The other major beneficiary was organised crime, effectively fused with the KGB to a point where it was unclear where one ended and the other began.
The state that until then had jealously guarded its monopoly on crime encouraged that field of endeavour to go private. In a few short years, that licence criminalised the country top to bottom, from Petersburg slums in which Putin had grown up to the Moscow Kremlin in which he now sits.
We’ve seen other criminal states, along with other fascist, totalitarian and aggressive ones. But we’ve never seen anything quite like this. Russia has always prided herself on being sui generis – and she has even more to be proud about now.