On Tuesday, Wagner Group CEO Yevgeny Prigozhin sat down for an interview with pro-Russian military blogger Konstantin Dolgov. Over the course of the discussion, the mercenary leader continued his barbed criticism of Russia’s military leadership, disparaged the sad state of the Russian army, and even seemed to suggest that a general revolt against the government of Vladimir Putin was right around the corner.
In the wake of that widely viewed interview, Dolgov was fired from his position at a Russian propaganda network, but Prigozhin … goes on. In what may be one of the most inexplicable chapters of Russia’s labyrinthine political system, Prigozhin still hasn’t had a stairwell accident, an unfortunate illness, or a visit to an open window despite months of increasingly blatant disdain for everyone and everything involved with Putin’s personal war on Ukraine.
Of all the things that Prigozhin said in the interview, the most painful and impactful to Putin and his long-term plans may not be that Russians might soon tire of sending their sons to die in muddy ditches, without decent training or equipment, while the offspring of the oligarchs frolic in Paris. The biggest was simply this: By the measures that Putin himself put up, the invasion of Ukraine is an absolute failure.
On the day that Russian tanks rolled across the border into Ukraine, Putin set two straightforward goals in a speech to the Russian people: “de-Nazifying” and “demilitarizing” Ukraine. Essentially, that meant bringing down the Ukrainian government and destroying the Ukrainian military.
Even after the crushing defeat in the Battle of Kyiv, the second defeat in the Kharkiv counteroffensive, and the inability to hold onto the city of Kherson, Putin has continued to push these two goals. When it comes to everything that has happened or might happen in his illegal invasion, these are the two measures Putin built for himself, and has returned to again and again.
That’s what makes this the most critical moment of the interview with Prigozhin.
Prigozhin admits that Putin’s invasion hasn’t just failed, it has done the opposite of what Putin declared its central purpose. The Ukrainian government is by every measure stronger than it was when the war began, both in domestic popular support, and perhaps more importantly, in the international arena. Zelenskyy is the new Churchill. The Ukrainian military, warts and all, is now a symbol for strength, resilience, and bravery that has no modern rival.
“I don’t know,” said Prigozhin. “It’s like the Greeks during the period of Greece’s prosperity. Like the Romans were during ...” At that point Dolgov cuts him off, but the point is made.
Which brings up the second measure of Russian failure, one that Prigozhin returns to several times in the interview. Putin hasn’t just been ineffectual in the effort to crush the Ukrainian military, his invasion has made that military much, much stronger. In fact, says Prigozhin, the Ukrainian military is now one of the strongest in the world.
“If at the start of the special operation they had 500 tanks, hypothetically speaking,” said the Wagner leader, “now they have 5,000 tanks. If 20,000 men were able to fight before, now it’s 400,000. … F*ck knows how, but we’ve militarized Ukraine.”
Putin has managed to turn Zelenskyy into a hero, the Ukrainian people into a symbol for everything good, and the Ukrainian military into one of the strongest in the world. At this rate, other nations might actually start to consider if they want to be invaded next.
It’s not just Prigozhin and it’s not just bloggers who are starting to realize how badly this whole thing has gone for Russia. Even on state-sanctioned propaganda television, the questions are getting a little uncomfortable.
“I have a question about the strategic defeat of America that you mentioned as our goal. Of course it sounds impressive, most of our viewers will like it. ... But I have a feeling, you’ll probably disagree, but after fifteen months of fighting, when we have not only failed to crush Ukraine, but also could not move the front from Donetsk, well, it’s a little early to talk about America’s strategic defeat.”
The response—which includes a parable about learning to jump a two-meter bar by just jumping a two-meter bar—ends with a “Go for it, comrades!” and an insistence that being unable to wrest a kilometer away from Ukraine doesn’t mean they can’t conquer the whole United States. It’s every bit as nonsensical as it sounds.
Just where can the Russian military go to find any respect in this world? Well, comrade, there is always Fox News.
If you can get past the first minute, which DeSantis devotes to attacking the “woke” American military, you can finally reach that ray of hope on which Putin must currently hang his future dreams. DeSantis calls the illegal, unprovoked invasion of Ukraine “what’s going on in Eastern Europe.” Then says he wants a “settlement,” says he worries about “a wider war,” and the only time he says the word “Ukraine” is when expressing how he doesn’t want to get involved there.
Right now, as most of the world waits for Ukraine’s next move, Putin has one hope—the Republican counteroffensive against democracy.
The mini-invasion of Russia causes problems for everyone
When four-score Russian volunteers belonging to a couple of different groups poured over the border into Belgorod earlier this week, capturing a Russian APC, and momentarily laying claims to a pair of villages, there were some undoubted good effects. It once again demonstrated that Russia’s border security is all but nonexistent. It showed that Russia’s Air Force, VDV, and ground forces are incapable of making a rapid response to an incursion, and it strongly hinted that a serious military push into Russia could reach important targets before meeting resistance.
If nothing else, it put the fear of orthodox Jesus into the hearts of those both inside and outside the Kremlin. Some of the loud questioning of Russia’s actions in Ukraine that are hitting Russian airwaves this week, were no doubt inspired by seeing truckloads of insurgents raising rebel flags over Russian towns and zipping down Russian highways without a shot being fired.
The Belgorod incursion may even force Russia to detach some of its front-line troops to put up some pretense of border security. After all, this is the second time that anti-Putin Russians crossed the border to engage in military hijinks.
However, these actions are also generating some blowback that Ukraine certainly doesn’t want. That includes images of United-States-delivered vehicles sitting in a ditch across the Russian border. As Politico reports, the U.S. is now investigating just how that happened.
U.S. National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said Wednesday the White House is “looking into those reports that the U.S. equipment and vehicles could have been involved,” hinting at frustration in Washington.
Those reports would pretty much be confirmed at every step, since both the videos going in from the Russian insurgents, and those put out at the end of the affair by the Russian government, show American-sourced Humvees and MaxxPro vehicles, complete with machine guns.
The big concern here is simply the level of trust that the United States places in Ukraine when it hands over any weapon system. If these vehicles were stolen by AWOL Russian volunteers in their attempt to create their own “people’s republic,” that’s bad enough. If the Ukrainian military handed over materiel from the United States to a Russian faction with the tacit understanding it would be used across the border … frankly, neither the Pentagon nor President Joe Biden is going to like that.
Rightly or wrongly, that’s going to be viewed as a signal that Ukraine either can’t be trusted to do what it said, or that it is sadly lacking in military discipline. Honestly, if you can’t stop half a company of troops from taking their weapons and going off on a personal mission, how much military discipline do you have? And the consequences are potentially huge, since a strict condition of long-range weapons deliveries is that Ukraine operates them only inside its own territory. This could impact the delivery of F-16 fighter jets and longer-range missiles, as well as justify the refusal to deliver ATACMS long-range rockets.
The answer to all this is probably going to come down to this: Will the guys who limped back over the border, whooping about their big adventure, find themselves paying a price? A price in terms of visiting the Ukrainian equivalent of the military prison at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas. Ukraine may need to decide between the neo-Nazi Russian groups they’ve accepted as volunteers, or the respect and trust of the United States—their single most important ally and biggest benefactor. That little adventure could have big consequences, and they’re not all good for Ukraine.
Russia was lying about shooting all the drone boats
On Wednesday, the Russian military released video of the reconnaissance ship Ivan Khurs under attack by drone boats somewhere in the Black Sea. According to that report, Russian forces shot down all the drones before they reached the ship.
Surprise. It seems Russia lied about that. Because a newly released video appears to show, one of those drone boats making contact with the Khurs.
Did it manage to cause any damage to the Russian warship? It seems unlikely that the spy vessel is on its way to join its former flagship, but the video indicates that one drone reached its target and was large enough to be carrying significant explosives. In an age where AI images and videos are within reach of the average social media user, it’s difficult to say if this video or the one published earlier by Russia, reflects real events. Something like this—grainy, with few landmarks or objects in the background—is exceptionally easy to fake.
We probably won’t know unless the Khurs limps into a port somewhere, trailing smoke.