A funny thing happened on the way to Moscow last week. We have all been regaled on how Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head (well, the now “former” head) of the Wagner Group strapped on his armor and led his merry men on a jaunty and noble trek across the windswept tundra (Russian Highway M-4) to within 200 kilometers of Moscow. There, he stopped, took a smoke, had a phone call with Alexander Lukashenko and decided now was the time to call it a day and end his quest.
What was said on the call with Lukashenko the Weird? The patriarch of Belarus (now in his glorious sixth term… all duly elected through popular support, of course) is only outdone in his arrogance by his pronounced senility. Lukashenko’s days on this planet are numbered… though like Un the Gout in North Korea, I am sure he tells his people that a “rainbow of eternal life” sprouts from his forehead… or some other idiocy like that.
Something about this thing just rubs me the wrong way. Not that I don’t love the idea of a spunky entrepreneurial guy like Prigozhin finally getting fed up dealing with government bureaucrats and deciding the whole damn enterprise is just “not worth it”.(There is, indeed, something uniquely comical about a group of former communists coming to the same rational conclusion that many entrepreneurs around the globe have realized: partnering with the government simply isn’t worth the trouble.)
Still, while Prigozhin may be a risk taker, he is not an idiot… monster, a butcher, a killer, and an intimidator, sure, but not an “idiot”.
So what was really going on here?
One of my good friends postulated a scenario. It reads like a John Le Carré novel, and involves the CIA, Ukraine, and Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure all at the same time. It speaks of hubris and idiocy… and may, quite possibly, have some truth to it.
The script reads like this:
A month or so ago the CIA reaches out to Prigozhin. One would like to believe this took place in a cafe in the cobblestoned streets of Vienna, but in reality they probably just sent him an email. They proffer the following deal: “Hey, Yevgeny… wouldn’t it be cool if you became the Napoleon of Russia? The people love you, baby, and the fact that all of your men are convicts is kinda romantic too. That Sergei Shoigu is a prick, and from what we heard he doesn’t like you very much, and has been whispering things to Vlad at night while eating caviar and drinking vodka. Besides… I think we all agree Shoigu… well he just looks creepy, don’t you think? Look… he hates you, and Vlad, well… Vlad is getting up there in age and quite possibly disease, and it is really nothing more than a matter of time before that silver-tongued devil Shoigu starts getting under his skin. Then the roubles are going to stop flowing to you, and they might even try to arrest you. So… here is the deal: We will give you some walking-around cash, and you take your little army and go protect your buddy Vlad from that mean Shoigu guy. Get into Moscow, clean house, and we think you will find the Russian people actually really dig your vibe. They just might want you to stay as… who knows… Czar Prigozhin? How does that sound?”
Prigozhin chuckles to himself and promptly calls up his buddy, Vlad the Putin. “Vlad…the Americans want me to launch a coup.”
“How much are they willing to pay?”
“I don’t know… they say they need to work out the payments.”
“Tell you what, we need to get those criminals you are commanding either leashed or wrapped up into the Army. You good with retiring?”
“Of course! I got into this business to make money! You ready to buy me out?”
“Well, we were… but maybe the Americans can fund the exit package for us.”
“Even better, bro!”
“Call them back and see what they are offering.”
One week later…..
“Yevgeny! What’s cooking?”
“CIA called… they want to kick six billion dollars in my direction.”
“Holy crap! Six billion?!? How are they going to get that through Congress?!?”
“They said the Pentagon will announce an accounting error in aid to Ukraine. They will claim that on the last disbursement they came up six billion short, and they need an appropriation to cover. The money goes to Ukraine, Ukraine gives the money to me.”
“Well… they want to buy a coup… let’s give them a coup… you comfortable going to Belarus?”
“Jesus, Vlad! Why the hell do you want me to go there? You know how Lukashenko is! He is… well… he creeps me out! Besides, he smells funny, and he is going to want to hang out all the time.”
“Yevgeny, Alex is a short timer. Belarus is going to need a new leader pretty soon, and the world already thinks you are a nut. Besides, I’m putting some nukes in there right now; you’ll have access to them too. I think this might be a win win for everyone involved. You in?”
“Do I get to keep the six billion?”
“Well, it would be nice if you slipped a fellow buddy from St. Petersburg a little cheddar.”
“Yeah, Vlad, I hear you. Always planned on tipping you about a billion if you are cool with that.”
“Well, Yevgeny… let’s get the money going and give the Americans a coup. How long do you want to do the dance?”
“I don’t know, Vlad… I was thinking about a week?”
“These things can get out of control quickly. Let’s keep it down to a day.”
“You got it, bud… a day it is!”
“See you soon, Yevgeny… and make sure you stay at least a few miles outside of Moscow.”
“Don’t worry, Vlad… won’t come closer than 200 kilometers.”