The Caterer's Coup
What some pundits call an insurrection played out this week in Russia between private military contractor Wagner and Russia proper (MOD). Details are spotty, and sources are questionable, but what generally seems true is that the commander of PMC Wagner, Yevgeny Prigozhin, led his forces into Rostov (a hub for the Russian military) and briefly took control of the city against little to no resistance. From there, Prigozhin led an armored column north toward Moscow.
The official line from Prigozhin is that his effort was a "march for justice," and the Wagner leader has been critical of Russian brass – like Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu – for poorly managing the war and failing to keep his troops properly supplied.
While I'm sure that Mr. Prigozhin was simply looking out for the wellbeing of his troops out of the goodness of his heart, it's also possible that Russia's move to bring all mercenary forces under state control by the start of July – a move which Prighozin has publicly opposed for a while now – just may have been a factor in Prighozin's acting out.
As Wagner marched north, it's reported that Moscow prepared to defend itself, with Russian MOD troops preparing fighting positions around government buildings in the city.
Prigozhin's (official) background is that he operated a catering company that served the Kremlin before admitting to being involved in Wagner Group last year. But unofficially, Prigozhin founded Wagner Group in 2014 and has quietly played a large role in the mercenary organization since its inception. Previously referred to as "Putin's Chef," his nickname has evolved in recent years to "Putin's Butcher," which will be understood intuitively by those of you familiar with Wagner's sledgehammer.
Wagner Group forces made it about 120 miles from Moscow and stopped under Prigozhin's orders. The PMC commander then issued a statement that he didn't want to see Russian blood spilled in an internal conflict and stood down his forces.
It's understood this abrupt but peaceful end to the insurrection was personally negotiated by Belorussian President Aleksandr Lukashenko. Prigozhin will be allowed to flee to Belarus, and Russia's state military will largely absorb Wagner's forces.
I have seen commentators suggest this insurrection was funded by the US or orchestrated by the CIA, but I have not seen anyone actually put forth any evidence beyond "trust me, bro."
Those of you following the conflict in Ukraine know that Wagner has paid a heavy price in blood for gains that conventional Russian forces could not obtain. And there have been public displays of frustration by Prigozhin; he's claimed that Russian military leadership is inept and that his troops are paying the price for MOD incompetence. Prigozhin has also claimed that Russians have killed Wagner forces in recent blue-on-blue incidents.
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Some pundits have described this as a coup d'etat, an insurrection, or a mutiny. To that end, the timing of this event is questionable. The Russian military has shrugged off the Ukrainian counteroffensive; it's not like they are losing the war. Aside from the fact that a coup was not Prigozhin's stated goal, there is also no evidence to suggest that Prigozhin earnestly thought he would overthrow Russia with a single armored column, especially not when the Russian population is neither starving nor going without basic services. To be blunt, everyone is wrong.
When this started to unfold, my first thought was of what Machiavelli famously articulated in The Prince:
I’d like to offer a better explanation of why mercenaries are not a good idea. A mercenary commander may or may not be an excellent military leader: if he is, you can’t trust him because he will always aspire to power himself, either by attacking you, his paymaster, or by attacking others against your wishes; but if he isn’t a capable leader, he’ll ruin you anyway. And if someone objects that it hardly matters who commands the army since commanders always behave like this, whether mercenary or no, my response is as follows: armed forces are always at the service of a hereditary ruler or a republic. A ruler must go in person and act as commander himself; a republic must send its citizens; if it sends a man who turns out to be no good it must replace him; if he is good it must keep him in line with laws that prevent him exceeding his brief. Experience shows that only rulers and republics with their own armies make serious progress, while mercenaries bring nothing but trouble. And a republic with a citizen army is less likely to fall victim to a coup than a republic paying for mercenary armies.
Niccolò Machiavelli - The Prince, Chapter 12, Different kinds of armies and a consideration of mercenary forces
Others have referenced this sentiment as well. But Vladimir Putin is a competent statesman, and so I'd venture a guess that he is also familiar with the works of Machiavelli; I doubt the danger that a PMC group the size of Wagner could pose was lost on him.
My point here is that I don't think Putin is experiencing this turbulence because he got caught with his pants down over a freshman-level poli-sci blunder; my point is that he's dealing with this trouble because he's correctly tightening the leash on his mercenary forces now that they've served their purpose.
In situations like this, I think the simplest explanation is probably the safest bet until there is evidence to the contrary. As a 9-star internet general, my guess is that Prigozhin – who has been involved as a Wagner leader since the original annexation of Crimea and the Donbas war in 2014 – does not want to suddenly be bossed around by the Ministry of Defense commanders that he's spent the last ten years outperforming.
But Putin stuck to his guns about bringing mercenary forces to heel as subordinates of Defense Ministry commanders, which is what forced this conflict. Looking at this as the dust is settling, Wagner is essentially disbanded and reintegrated into the Russian state military, Putin is still firmly in power, Prigozhin was allowed to bow out peacefully (a golden bridge by which to retreat), and there was virtually no kinetic fighting at all compared to what a coup may usually entail.
In a good point made by Malcom Kyeyune, this insurrection – despite being an embarrassing distraction for Putin – appears to have been handled and resolved more quickly, decisively, and professionally than the Biden administration did in response to January 6th.
Anyone who looks back at the news from even two weeks ago will see that this outcome is ultimately what Putin wanted. And despite what the Twitter Spaces Joint Chiefs of Staff will tell you, it's clear that Putin is still very much the man who controls Russia.
How the rest of the war in Ukraine plays out for Russia is a separate topic. But MOD soldiers are still following orders, and it seems clear that not many people are in a hurry to try and take Vlad's seat, even if the war itself is not going as well for Russia as many had anticipated it would.
Canada's Online News Act
Canada's Bill C-18, the Online News Act, which would force social media companies to compensate news outlets for any links sharing their content, has cleared the legislature and will take effect in six months.
The social media giant Meta has confirmed that it will end access to news on its social media sites for all Canadian users before Bill C-18, the Online News Act, comes into force.
The tech company made the announcement on Thursday, the same day the bill received royal assent. The law will force tech giants like Meta and Google to pay news outlets for posting their journalism on their platforms.
Meta said it will begin to block news for Canadian users over the next few months and that the change will not be immediate.
Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, has decided that rather than paying news outlets for any articles posted to social media, they will not allow them to be posted on their platforms at all. Google has threatened similar measures.
According to the official text of the bill, the purpose of C-18 is "to regulate digital news intermediaries [social media and search engines - Lee] with a view to enhancing fairness in the Canadian digital news marketplace and contributing to its sustainability, including the sustainability of news businesses in Canada, in both the non-profit and for-profits sectors, including independent local ones."
I suspect this is disingenuous. You'll remember that Canada was brought to a virtual standstill by truckers and pro-freedom protestors opposing vaccine mandates and lockdowns in early 2022. Canada could only break the protests by seizing peoples' bank accounts and trampling disabled old ladies with mounted police. Much of the protestors' vitriol was perpetuated by sharing news stories on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram detailing the Canadian government's tyrannical policies.
My guess is the Online News Act, despite ostensibly existing to "enhance fairness," is actually a calculated move by the Canadian legislature to engineer a situation where the sharing of online news itself is bogged down by complicated bureaucracy, an opaque schedule of fees and costs, and forced to exist in a permanent legal gray area. I think the intent of this bill is to get Meta and Google to do exactly what they are doing now – which is to stop letting people share the news.