Sunday 25 June 2023

A day trip to Rostov-on-Don and points north

A point made around here ad nauseam is that Surprise is really important in warfare.  Clearly Mr Wagner agrees, and has pulled off a beauty - he and his well-armed, well-disciplined horde.  Absolut banditi, as they say in Russia.  And Putin was caught absolutely napping: his own intelligence about his "own" forces is significantly poorer than the west's (is he not even monitoring the mobile phones, FFS??).  I have waited 24 hours before posting because there was always the possibility of Putin pulling off a decisive counterstroke, but no, the man and his machine are as deeply inept and incompetent as ever.

Let's ask a few questions:

  • did Prigozhin plan this?  Or did he take Rostov on a quiet summer's evening when all Russians are drunk, and turn north in fuelled-up convoys complete with air defence units and tanks on low-loaders, just on a whim?  Ans:  planned
  • did Prig know that Putin's airforce at least, has quite enough ground-attack assets to wipe out any concentration of vehicles before it reached Moscow?  Ans: yes[1]
  • did Putin have any faith in his ability to order the wiping out of a concentration of vehicles before it reached Moscow?  Ans: no
  • did Prig have a "very high" expectation of "negotiations" before matters reached that pass?  Ans: yes
  • would he therefore have had some carefully-crafted terms in mind before this all kicked off, for when he found himself dealing with some poor intermediary who was still reeling from shock?  Ans: oh yes he would
Prig didn't get where he is today without being transactional[2] and a very bold deal-maker indeed.  There's always a deal to be done[3].  He is also creative and comes up with ideas for what can be done with the levers of power, beyond what's routinely done[4] - always to be admired and feared in a politician. 
  • would he also know what he's going to do next?  Ans: he'll know a lot better than anyone else - and a lot better than any in Putin's clan know what they're going to do

Yes, Prig has made out like - a bandit.  And all in 24 hours.  Now?  Well he won't want to follow in the footsteps of Wat Tyler, Robert Aske & co.  It's to be imagined he has "assets" in Belorussia.  Still, you wouldn't put too much money on him celebrating Xmas.  

I look forward to the return of our trolls to tell us how this is all part of Putin's masterplan.  But the long-suffering people of Russia might find that just a little bit harder to believe than before.  Prig has marked their cards for them.



[1] and so did his troops, which makes it all the more impressive

[2] like, errr, Sadiq Khan

[3] Putin himself has been known to relate how in Russia, big disputes are settled over a big dinner at which both sides come armed to the teeth, but settle down to terms (and toasts).  In short, Prig has successfully brought Putin to the table as an equal.  And everyone in Russia understands

[4] like Mandelson


Clive said...

Not qualified to comment on the main questions, but an observation on the insights given to the anti-western pro-Russian vatniks. We occasionally see their anonymous pearls of wisdom posted here below the line.

The past day’s events have shown how naive and clueless the various milbloggers, horseshoe politics leftists and progressives (basically right wing autocrat fanboys who throw in the occasional liberal tropes and feign concern for the plights of The Little People) and alt-media gritters selling war merch (I won’t name them here, we all know them by now) are. The completely failed to foresee any domestic issues in Russia, had no clue about what might unfold and could do little more than sit, passively, until they got the email telling them what the concluding narratives should be. Long story short: it never happened, move on and we’ll memory hole the entire incident. Well, good luck with that. But, to be fair, which they don’t deserve, what else can that do?

But while the short-term cope fills the page and the blank space in the social media timeline, those who’ve hitched their wagon to simping Russia do now, unavoidably, inherit the same problem that the ruling elite in Russia and the siloviki are currently facing. If they end up reactionaries and conservatives hoping the status quo prevails (i.e. either Putin or, failing that, a Putin drop-in replacement who simply carries on where Putin left off, if he is removed), they risk being out on a limb, prone to being cut loose, if something different to Putin ends up being installed by the powerbrokers in Moscow. But if they cast around trying to pick the next winner, whatever payoffs they are getting will be cut short while ever Putin remains in some sort of position of control.

All too much like hard work, as far as I’m concerned. But whether the motivation is direct explicit financial or other reward, or it’s a case of genuine enthusiasm for Russia (as a foil to the west), I suspect our anonymous friend will continue to retail us with tails of how Russia in general, and Putin in particular, have the world at their feet.

Wildgoose said...

I have no idea what is happening with this bizarre Prigozhin incident. His demented ramblings have never made any sense to me. I just assumed it must be some sort of Maskirovka, ("military deception"). But the latest is even more insane than normal.

My first thought was that perhaps he has been paid off by some Western-backed Russian oligarch(s). But why? Relieve the pressure on the Ukrainians? Try to flush out Putin's opponents? (The latter would be useful to either side). They couldn't seriously expect a coup to work - his military forces are hundreds of miles from Moscow and highly unlikely to "just obey orders" and take part in a coup.

Is it to provide cover for a major reorganisation of Russian troops?

More cynically, is it intended to encourage the Ukrainians to continue to waste men and equipment on their futile attempts to attack the dug-in Russian forces?

Nothing really makes sense, which means there must be a bigger picture that we are all missing.

The only thing I am not believing is the gleeful rhetoric from the people who still insist that Russia is a "gas station masquerading as a country" and that Ukraine can seriously drive Russia back to its 2014 borders with the help of Western "wonder weapons". I seem to remember an Austrian with a moustache making similar comments from his bunker in Berlin.

Clive said...

@ Wildgoose 8:17

I’d agree we know little, barely 10% of what’s really gone on and going on (my estimation, even then I’d probably over estimate how much we know).

What that absence of information does inform us of is how we should at every and any occasion someone comes along and in a easy, breezy (but cheesy) confident handwavey way tells us “oh, well, it’s like this, that’s what’s happened, that’s what’s happening, here’s how it is” we should, on sight, denounce them as the complete and utter bollocks talkers that have just identified themselves as being. Seriously. They’re a scourge of the internet and a plague on our modern culture. Time to show them the door, whatever our own thoughts and opinions are on a particular topic.

I’d also agree that nothing in the past 48 hours’ events makes it any more plausible that Ukraine can regain its pre-2014 borders in their entirely. Conversely, nothing in the past 48 hours’ events makes it any more plausible that Russia can continue as a going concern in its current mafia-state-as-geopolitical-and-business-model indefinitely, either. Yes, it could potter along quite happily without significant change for another 20 years or more. Or we could tune in tomorrow and find the whole edifice has collapsed through, as Macmillan had it, “events” overnight.

Anonymous said...

OTOH the Mafia state as business model has provided substantial increases in life expectancy, GDP per capita, trade surplus, and various other goodies, admittedly starting from the business models of Harvard and the IMF which nearly destroyed Russia under Yeltsin.

The problem with the current model is one of the succession. Putin is by any any metric a remarkable leader, but where do you find a Putin 2.0 ?

Still we are the worst people to criticise, under our model of continually lowered living standards since probably the early Blair years

Anonymous said...

In 1970s Britain a man with an industrial job on the shop floor could afford his own home, car and a wife raising his children. Now we see two graduates frantically juggling childcare and fretting over mortgage rates

Anonymous said...


Have you had a chance to look at Kamil Galeev's observations on the issue? In the past he's been more worried about Putin 2.0 than Putin 1.0.

Now nukes have been moved to Belarus, guess who turns up having had Lukashenko's private yet sent over for him.

It would be ironic of the West now want Putin in place for as long as possible.

Anonymous said...

Substantial increases in life expectancy? Not if you're male. Russian male life expectancy was always bad, now it's barely a couple of years above the 1990 (communist era) levels

And Putin promised to raise GDP per capita to the level of Portugal (not one of Europe's most prosperous places and way, way below the UK let alone Germany) and didn't achieve even that modest goal -- with no realistic prospect of doing it now. Compare and contrast to, say, what the UAE has done. The US being, of course, in a different solar system by comparison. You almost need a logarithmic scale to compare the US and Russia, economically.

Avoiding turning out like Venezuela is not an example of successful leadership.

Caeser Hēméra said...

For me, the interesting thing was how easy it was for Prigozhin, I can think of only two rational reasons why - there is the third option, that Putin let him, but that'd require something of enough value to offset the cost of perceived weakness.

1) Enough of the military agreed with him to not stop him; or
2) Pretty much all the military are in Ukraine

My money is on 1) which means, for Putin, the clock is ticking. It's going to be months, if not weeks, before the next plot starts.

It also may help explain the limited use of the RuAF in the war, if enough soldiers get disgruntled they've got air power as defence. Not that it did much against Wagner, mind, other than meet the ground on fire.

A lot in the West would like it to be 2), mostly as it means we can stop any further Russian adventures for a generation, simply by providing Ukraine enough equipment to wipe out the invaders. As it is, they're going to be hard pressed to be effective anywhere for years, they may have bodies, but the experienced ones who'll do the future training are increasingly only contactable by ouija board.

Caeser Hēméra said...

As for the counter-offensive, looks like Ukraine is still prodding for weak spots, but with fog of war and all that, be a few more weeks before we know if it's failed, or if there have been enough successes.

Situation very looks like Kherson, where there was plenty of negativity right up until the Russians made like Usain Bolt.

Can't imagine the Russian front lines are thrilled that Shoigu and Gerasimov are still in place.

Anonymous said...

Are there any sites where we can bet on these outcomes? I think barring missile strikes Putin will be there long after the other chap has gone to Tel Aviv or Florida.

But one must give credit to US foreign policy. They have sundered Russia and Germany, destroyed German industry and made Europe more fepedepen than they've been since WW2.

Remember the days when the guardian was looking forward to an independent EU foreign policy?

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

I see a big chunk of Wagner are following their leader to Belarus. Poland are consequently strengthening their border and the Lithuanian president says the entire eastern flank of nato needs reinforcement.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

Anon - US living standards have been falling for decades. I rarely see ordinary American families in Stratford, they were a cliche in the 1970s.

"Labor’s share of national income has been declining since 2000 and capital’s share has been rising. Labor’s compensation (wages and benefits) has not been keeping pace with productivity growth. In their new analysis of this phenomenon, EPI’s Josh Bivens and Larry Mishel argue, “ This decoupling coincided with the passage of many policies that explicitly aimed to erode the bargaining power of low- and moderate-wage workers in the labor market.”"

Nick Drew said...

Anon @ 11:40 - yes, Galeev is generally worth reading: though he is a lot stronger on social & civil matters than military. The 24 June episode caught him on the hop, I think (& not just him ...). This time he only really responded with some (excellent) socio-historical background on Prig & Wagner. His initial instinct was to poo-pooh the idea of a 1,100 km march on Moscow, so I'm guessing the hot-knife-through-butter 800km thrust actually achieved would have surprised him also.

Your point abt Belarus hosting not only Prig, but also RF nukes now, is a sharp one!

CH - "Can't imagine the Russian front lines are thrilled that Shoigu and Gerasimov are still in place" - FWIIW, Russian social meejah are full of powerful indicators of low morale. Can't imagine that permanent departure from the front line of the most effective troops available to RF, coupled with the Chechens roaming around as behind-the-lines disciplinarians, does much to make things better. Whatever "support" Prig had from RF army units (and it doesn't appear to have been any active support whatsoever, maybe to his disappointment), he certainly didn't face any active army opposition whatsoever, and not much from the air either.

Sullen Russian army passivity is a large part of what the Ukrainians need just now. The other, of course, is rather more capability in the air war, offensive and defensive - which they really don't have. Very heavy going without at least local air cover, to say the least.

Anon @ 2:47 - "a big chunk of Wagner are following their leader to Belarus": yes, as noted above, we must imagine Prig has assets there. If his crew can carve through Russia, they can do what they like in B. I have seen it suggested that Russia might reform Wagner and turn them loose from bases in B, as a new northern front. That's a bit too neat. It would involve them being fully equipped, in a desperately weak vassal state, being relied upon to do exactly what they are told ...

The first thing Lenin did when taking over, was to disband the army units in the big cities (having declared the end of war with Germany, of course). People with guns and a modicum of training, possibly disaffected and just milling around, are never a good thing.

Clive said...

@ Anonymous 4:00

Move the goalposts, much? I see now we've shifted from absolute national wealth to inequality (GDP and GDP per capita) to inequality.

Well, yes, Russia is less unequal than, say, the US on the GINI index -- but a poor American is still far, far richer than a poor Russian. And even the UK, not an especially egalitarian society, is better in terms of wealth distribution than Russia is.

Caeser Hēméra said...

@ND - hopefully the Ukrainians will get some air cover soon, they seem to have adapted well enough without it in terms of killing the enemy, albeit at the cost of their own lives.

Some very odd stuff still coming out from Russia - Wagner hasn't disarmed, the FSB haven't stopped the investigation, Shoigu is/isn't under some kind of restricted movements.

It's enough to drive Mulder and Scully to distraction.

Caeser Hēméra said...

@Clive and his anon bete noire:

Russia is very much a dark reflection of the US - the disparity between the metropoles and the boondocks, the imperial trappings, wide geographies, propensity to invade places, inflated sense of exceptionalism...

The primary difference comes with the US being a _bit_ more willing to face its wrongdoings, albeit usually after a lot of teenage-esque reticence and time, along with face pulling.

They may explain why the oft repeated stats on indoor toilet facilities does not favour Russia, and why the US is actively trying to stop non-US kids entering the country, whilst Russia has to act like the Childcatcher.

Although I do wonder, should Russia disappear tomorrow, how the US would act without a reflection to shame it.

Nick Drew said...

Prig has serious top-cover, or крыша as they say in Russia (roof)

All that money they found in St Petersburg wasn't just sitting there for months, it was crisp and new

'Has' - or 'had'? Well, Prig is a very big cheese to throw under a bus - he literally knows where an awful lot of bodies are buried, and much else besides, on several continents; & he doesn't look to me like someone who leaves anything to chance

Bill Quango MP said...

I would have picked option 1. The entire army is at the front.
All the other odds and sods from customs to military base police, to naval troops to the anti terrorist police are on the inactive borders keeping the illusion of strength up. Just milling around, being seen, so another nation doesn’t take advantage of their war.

The airforce could have stopped that column. Their Cold War SU jets were designed for just that purpose. Plus the helicopters.

I think the giveaway was blowing up their own fuel dumps and digging up the road to Moscow. As there was nothing to stop Wagner in time. Except blowing him up. And even then, perhaps he might offer the airforce pilots a few hundred thousand to develop engine trouble. Or a few million to come and join in.

What was his plan? It looked like, not to get whacked. The army had already said mercenaries are to be part of the army.
This was very similar to what happened to Hitler’s SA. Too powerful for wartime. Bump off the big man and take the soldiers into the regular army.

The only thing missing in this very plausible March on Moscow scenario is,

What were the FSB doing? True, they are mainly concerned with external affairs, but Wagner group had been getting ever more angry for a number of months. An open secret that something was up.
And the GRU? Military intelligence. They weren’t looking at their biggest internal enemy and what he was preparing?

I believe the road was open. And the army dared not move units quickly in case the Ukrainians took advantage. Once some brave soul told Putin that there was a possibility Prigozhin might get to the Kremlin first, Putin had to offer him a deal. Whatever he wanted. Or it was all over for Vladimir.

( very worrying for the rest of the defenders if many frontline units get the order to pack up and pull back to Moscow. During an enemy offensive. There’s a rout in the making.)

( it all happened very quickly. Russian soldiers taking the initiative to act has never been their military way. The entire military is based on ‘only Obey orders’ . Then you have that to defend yourself with. Take the initiative and you have no defence if you do the wrong thing. )

Clive said...

@ Caeser Hēméra 7:52

Yes, I’d agree with that. And, especially, the US really squandered the unprecedented influence and power it inherited with the collapse of the Soviet Union. Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Libya (there’s probably at least one other I’ve forgotten in that list of infamy) can all be laid at the door of the US. Untold damage, suffering and human misery for little or absolutely no gain.

Bill Quango MP said...

Aoops. Meant option 2. The military is almost all in Ukraine. As would be expected during an enemy counteroffensive.

Anonymous said...

You might want to note the timing of Lukashenko's jet which took off in the early hours of 23rd June. Wonder why and who was it going to meet? Putin or Novo Putin.

Nick Drew said...

Anon - yes, but it went to Turkey.

Still, that doesn't mean he wasn't in on this in some role, active or reactive / hedging bets. Lots of people were. Without getting into tinfoil conspiracy theory it is becoming increasingly clear that

(a) Prig's move was planned, and impressively** so, for a little while (per my original post, which was making an inference: but now we know) - probably starting with when the ultimatum was issued for Wagner to 'merge' with RF forces. Western intelligence knew about it at least a couple of days in advance. Stunning OPSEC, by the way, to ensure this didn't reach Putin either from loose western tongues OR direct Wagner sources. Unbelievable? Well, but does it really seem that he knew? He really is profoundly isolated, because I have to think some state actors in Moscow knew, and I don't just mean ...

(b) ... the others who were involved: Prig's string-pullers; and they're still out there. Prig was 'only' the public face and primary tangible aspect of the move
** the logistics of the flying column are proof positive

Anonymous said...

"Western intelligence knew about it at least a couple of days in advance."

I'd say that too, true or not, if I wanted to sow distrust and dissension in an enemy state.

For a man of the world, ND, you're remarkably trusting - a good thing when surrounded by good people, but not so good in a company of villains, a category into which I'd undoubtedly assign the people who brought us Iraq, Syria, Serbia/Kosovo, Libya and the Maidan.

I'm delighted the NATO exercises passed off sans WW3 btw.

rwendland said...

Bit surprised ND you say Western intelligence knew about the Wagner merger into RF [only] at least a couple of days in advance. Politico was reporting about this effort on 11 June - was there a major new move on this recently I missed?

"Russia’s defense minister [Shoigu] has ordered all ‘volunteer detachments’ to sign a contract with the ministry" - June 11, 2023

Some stunt to save a big chunk of Prigozhin's business has been on the cards for quite a while. My recollection that the Wagner withdraw from Bakhmut coincided [at least] with the non-renewal of the RF contract with Wagner, with Wagner's contract ended around 31 May, so must have been known at least a month beforehand. Wagner must have had quite am internal funding crisis on the horizon on how to pay its expanded "workforce" after that. Seems to me Wagner's only choice was to cave in with a smaller business or threaten/run the big embarrassing stunt they did. I'd expect Western intelligence to know about this April or earlier.

Nick Drew said...

For clarity amongst these crossed wires:

(a) EVERYBODY knew about the 'merger', weeks ago

... but by "it", I meant the coup, not the merger

(b) W. intelligence knew about the 'coup' before Putin did

(I am not at all trusting, BTW.)

hovis said...

Not sure what to make of the whole less than 24 hour coup which had the Neo-Cons coming in their pants, that this was the end of Putin etc etc.

The better speculations I have seen have been the ever interesting Tom Luongo
via ZH.

From this distance a spat but how much double double crossing is difficult to tell the waters are too murky, especially when not schooled in the players. (I think most of the MSM coverage has been very poor); Not yet seeing this as harbinger of the Russian collapse via the 'counter offensive', however the next few months will tell.

In other news, it seems that Zelensky can't give up comedy, even while sending teenagers and old men to die needlessly, saying Ukraine is all that is stopping Western Europe being invaded by the Russians.

Diogenes said...

Russians don't do "democracy". They prefer authoritarian hard men so the Wagner episode created a sort of Wizard of Oz reveal of what was actually behind the curtain. So the search for the next hard man starts.

Or.. the West don't like the idea of dealing with someone new since there are no real alternatives after 20 years of Putin so want Putin to stay. To do this, they need to give him a hard man win over Ukraine and leave him with his current gains.

So vested interests continue and Wagner go off to Africa like some latter day East India Company.

What odds can I get on Putin staying?

Anonymous said...

"Russians don't do "democracy""

I'm not sure we do either, or have done since maybe the Callaghan/Thatcher era.

AFAIK "all" major parties agree that we should lower our living standards considerably by "sanctions against Russia" aka raising our energy costs massively. Which raises inflation massively.

And I remember a party which made a lot of noise about "grooming" and child sexual exploitation found itself the subject of a lot of state disruption, with its leadership in court on charges of "inciting hate", after the state broadcaster sent someone undercover to record its meetings. Then one of the party functionaries released the entire membership list to the world, most odd.

UK "democracy" only exists within closely defined limits - and who defines them?

hovis said...

Have to agree with Anon 9.05;

We no longer live in a functioning democracy of anything worth the name.
Decisions are not in our interest, nor are intended to be.
Institutions are at best husks, and reflect the modern corporate culture I encounter everyday, only good news, and don't rock the boat.

We keep on wanting the adults in the room, unfortunately we have the special needs cohort.

Anonymous said...

I hadn't realised, btw, just how much of UK's dominance during the Industrial Revolution was based on energy dominance - as in useful energy that could drive machines.

This last winter, admittedly a mild one, one of my children used no space heating at all in the flat in a subdivided Victorian house. Lived under a heated throw. The £65 a month subsidy paid the entire electric bills - cooking/fridge/freezer/lighting/TVs/laptops. Thus far have we come from 1950s "it'll be too cheap to meter" optimism.

E. Wrigley, "Energy and the English industrial revolution" (2010):

“Approximately two-thirds of the European production of cotton textiles took place in the UK. The comparable percentages for iron production and coal production were 64 and 76 per cent. [...] The total of installed steam engine horsepower was far larger than on the continent. In 1840, 75 per cent of the combined total capacity of stationary steam engines in Britain, France, Prussia and Belgium was in Britain alone (the other three countries accounted for the great bulk of installed capacity on the continent).”

Don Cox said...

"I hadn't realised, btw, just how much of UK's dominance during the Industrial Revolution was based on energy dominance - as in useful energy that could drive machines."

Coal from Durham, iron from the Cleveland hills. Canals and railways for transport.

We are currently going through a period when the old fuels (coal and oil) are going out, while nuclear fusion is not yet ready. Wind does help but, being intermittent, it isn't enough on its own.

Nuclear fission power stations are taking forever to build.


Don Cox said...

"We no longer live in a functioning democracy of anything worth the name."

We voted for Boris and got Sunak.


Anonymous said...

"a period when the old fuels (coal and oil) are going out"

Not outside the UK. More coal than ever was burned in 2022.

"Global coal use is set to rise by 1.2% in 2022, surpassing 8 billion tonnes in a single year for the first time and eclipsing the previous record set in 2013, according to Coal 2022, the IEA’s latest annual market report on the sector. Based on current market trends, the report forecasts that coal consumption will then remain flat at that level through 2025 as declines in mature markets are offset by continued robust demand in emerging Asian economies. This means coal will continue to be the global energy system’s largest single source of carbon dioxide emissions by far."

Nuclear fusion has been ten years away for sixty years now. As a schoolboy I knew about Tokamaks.

Anonymous said...

OT but this is funny - Jeremy Corbyn quoted Shelley ("arise like lions after slumber") and gets abuse on Twitter from Starmtroopers for his execrable poetry.

Anomalous Cowshed said...

Why did PMC Wagner get involved in Ukraine in the first place?

They seem to get great wads of cash from control of natural resources in the CAR, maybe Mali (les Frogs aren't particularly happy). See Politico and US sanctions.

Why is China being, ah, somewhat ambivalent on the matter?

BYD (and others) need a shit load of rare earths for all the batteries. China also needs iron ore and coal. How are they getting on with prospecting in Afghanistan?


Can you find those things in Ukraine? Apparently, yes. In Luhansk and Donetsk. Plus the oil and gas.

Was Prigo getting paid directly by the Russian state? Does Wagner actually own all the kit they've been using? The row about ammunition supplies is curious - if PMC isn't paying cash for them.

Best guess - Prig wasn't getting cash up front for the Special Military Operation. He was promised a share in the spoils - Ukrainian commodity assets, a la Africa.

Prig got annoyed - Wagner is probably running out of cash, with the promise of future moola rapidly receding into the far distance.

He blames the Russian MoD and Chiefs of Staff for his impending poverty. As, maybe, quite a lot of other potential beneficiaries do. The Generals and Marshals are probably not on the same deal at all.