Russia: CIA mercenary machinations, or does Russia have too many Gen. Milleys of its own?
Now that the strange Russian ending to the military mutiny by the Wagner Group PMC, led by Yevgeny Prigozhin, is on — the insurrection seemingly vanished into thin air with Prigozhin packed off to Belarus — numerous speculations have taken hold.
Two of the best to sink one's teeth into come from historian Edward Luttwak and former FBI special agent Mark Wauck, who highlight two different, but related things: that the entire rebellion was consistent with Russia's disastrous history with wars based on a hidebound military and legal structure, and that the mercenary group, Wagner, was easily purchased by the CIA for a coordinated operation that coincided with many events in the run-up — and that Putin got word and rolled it up quickly and effectively.
One can only think as one reads this: one, two, many Milleys. Russia has as many Gen. Milleys as we do — and the results are pretty much the same.
Luttwak's essay, for the online magazine UnHerd, is extremely entertaining, beginning with his summary:
Why do Russia's wars always start with disaster? The answer is straightforward: because the autocrats who rule Russia — be they Tsars (with the exception of Napoleon's nemesis Alexander I), Joseph Stalin or Vladimir Putin — appoint obedient toadies sadly lacking in military talent to command their forces.
And none is more out-of-his-depth than Sergei Shoigu, Putin's minister of defence. Shoigu studied engineering and skipped military service altogether. Nonetheless, he was rapidly promoted all the way to full general and then minister of defence by Putin because of his uncritical loyalty, which was further guaranteed by his obscure Tuvan origins that gave him no Muscovite power base to threaten the Kremlin (his birthplace is much closer to Beijing than to Moscow).
As for Putin's chief of staff, Valery Gerasimov, his incompetence is of a very modern sort, indeed postmodern. Just like some telegenic US generals with PhDs but no actual hands-on combat experience, Gerasimov preached "post-kinetic" warfare, in which cyber war, "information war" or "hybrid war" replaced old-fashioned infantry, armour and artillery combat .
It was Gerasimov who cooked up the brilliant plan that so convinced Putin — as well as the CIA, the US director of national intelligence and their fashionably post-kinetic military advisors — that the air-landed seizure of the Antonov field on the first night of the war would open the door to Kyiv.
In other words, the mutiny was possible based on something I noted earlier — how could Putin even allow a mercenary group to get so powerful? The answer is, they were competent at winning their war on Ukraine through ground combat, while the Russian army suffered from much of the same whiz-kid delusions that have made U.S. wars such disasters — a belief that ground combat is irrelevant, that masses of troops are less important, and that information war is now more important than "kinetic" war. The mercs of Wagner had no such delusions, and when they were told to go get a city, they were able to go get a city, such as Bakhmut.
Corruption and bad priorities had deprived the mercenaries of the ammo they needed, which prompted negative statements from Prigozhin, all of which seemed to have prompted a ballet of coordinated actions that led to the mutiny — which will be later described by Wauck.
But as Luttwak summed it up, the discontent between the competents and the incompetents was real:
This is what Yevgeny Prigozhin expected from Putin: the swift dismissal of Shoigu and Gerasimov and their replacement by officers old-fashioned enough to have "kinetic" skills, and who would focus on building up effective infantry, armour and artillery units to capture Kyiv and conquer Ukraine. Instead, with Gerasimov and Shoigu inexplicably still in charge, the Russians continued to rely on "information warfare" to demoralise the Ukrainians into surrender, with non-stop propaganda and terror air attacks against random buildings in Kyiv and most other cities.
And that didn't work the way they thought it would work. Luttwak goes into fantastic detail about how previous generals were shot for this incompetence, but Putin, very similar to Chile's Augusto Pinochet, whom I've studied closely, has always been legally obsessed, focused on what the law says, so there has been less shooting of generals. Luttwak does think Prigozhin will eventually get shot, though — he's a goner.
This brings us to Wauck's exploration of the issue, which begins with his dismissal of the more hollow theories floating around — that Putin and Prigozhin planned this together, or that it was simply a CIA plot.
What he found was that Putin, being legally obsessed, indeed, had his hands tied as to how he could conduct his war, and turned it into what was called a Special Military Operation or SMO.
Sound like Vietnam? Or Iraq? Or Afghanistan? It does to me. None of those wars was called an official war, either.
That meant he could employ Russian troops only for operations on Russian soil, which would have been the parts of eastern Ukraine they had already "annexed" from the 2014 invasion.
But mercenaries could do anything. They already had experienced mercenaries, from the Wagner Group, who had shown their competence and mettle in previous Russian conflicts in places like Syria and central Africa.
Putin got them to do the heavy lifting in attempting to take over Ukraine.
One problem: They were mercenaries, meaning they did their fighting for money, which made them susceptible to a CIA payment. There was, after all, that missing $6.2 billion from the Ukraine accounting in the U.S. aid to Ukraine, which Wauck didn't bring up, but plenty of people are talking about it on the internet. It may or may not be related. But the argument is, somehow Prigozhin got paid to wreak havoc with the Russian military command, which was creating problems for his effective mercenaries in the withholding of ammunition and other support.
Then, as Wauck notes, the coordination began:
This farce, goofy as it turned out, appears to have been planned and even choreographed. Prigozhin announced his action and headed for Rostov to confront the Russian military leaders at the Southern Command. Prigozhin's deputy, Utkin — a former Russian general — hit the road for Moscow. My suggestion is that the original plan was for Prigozhin to actually "arrest" the military commanders in Rostov and charge that they were responsible for the Ukrainian "breakthrough". Since that "breakthrough" never developed and the D-Day action had been launched on a wing and a prayer, Prigozhin was necessarily improvising in Rostov. He arrived in Rostov accompanied by or met by prepared contingents of the National Guard. It sounds like he did a bit of shouting, but got nowhere. My suspicion is that the military there had been prepped by the FSB (more below), and that they informed Prigozhin: It's over, turn around and go back. You'll receive instructions on your future later. In the meantime, get in touch with Utkin [Prigozhin's top general] and tell him the same.
While this was playing out the Western MSM — but especially the UK outlets — were broadcasting all sorts of alarmist and totally bogus "news". Even a few US outlets, like The Atlantic, got on board, with [Anne Applebaum's] goofy story about Russia "sliding into civil war" with Putin meeting his Nicholas II fate. Some things you just can't make up. This all has the appearance of a desperate and prearranged effort to create mass alarm amongst the Russian public in favor of a would-be savior — Prigozhin. Most intriguingly, there are (unconfirmed) reports of Moscow residents receiving phone calls urging them to get out in the streets in support of Prigozhin — MI6/CIA in action? As we know, by this time it was all winding down.
By this account, then, the FSB would have known of the plot well ahead of time. The reactions of the Russian authorities, both civil and military, appear to have run like clockwork. It was all under control.
Interestingly, today both the WaPo and the NYT are running stories in which the CIA claims that, Oh, yeah, we've known about this plot for months and we were worried about Russia's nukes if instability resulted. Hmmm. How about this. Maybe the CIA was actually part of the original plot — that's how they knew about it! And maybe the narrative about being worried about the nukes was the one they were going to deploy if Prigozhin gained some traction — to justify some sort of NATO intervention, to gin up nuclear hysteria in Russia, something of the sort. And so the stories claim that Zhou[Joe Biden] was briefed on it all — one pictures him absently licking an icecream cone while getting the brief, then asking when he can leave for the beach house.
This sounds pretty credible as a scenario. It goes to show that big plots can't be kept secret, the outlines are always out there, and the presence of a giant intelligence outfit with more power than the state itself can always spring into action. Sound like the U.S.?
And that Russia is loaded with a lot of Gen. Milleys who couldn't win a war if they tried, but keep patting themselves on the back for it and larding themselves up with medals and defense contract money streams.
Maybe it's time to re-evaluate how these things happen, given that if a Milley situation could exist there, too, same as here, so could a Prigozhin. It's what happens when a competent disruptor (Luttwak calls him a "maverick") turns up in a sea of bureaucratic Deep State sludge that amounts to the military. And when intelligence agencies have more power than the state in the course of events. Combine them, and get Prigozhin. Sound like the U.S. is immune?
Image: Twitter screen shot.