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OPINION

Yevgeny Prigozhin's futile and unsuccessful rebellion: Nikolay Svanidze on the military coup's failure

According to Svanidze, although the rebellion lasted less than a day, due its fighters' preparation and experience it had the potential to seize control over the entire southern region of Russia. However, Prigozhin, recognizing the immense risk involved, refrained from pursuing his ambition of becoming a new dictator of Russia, even if only briefly.

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Well, what was it all about?!

Comparisons were drawn to the events of 1917 by the person in the highest position of power. That person was indulging in self-flattery. Russia in the year 2023 is devoid of the characteristics it possessed in 1917. Back then, the country had a young and inexperienced yet functioning parliament, genuine political parties, and, despite the backdrop of World War, a rich political landscape filled with vibrant and diverse personalities.

Russia of that time had one of the most sophisticated independent jury courts in Europe. The constant struggle for freedom was reflected in the electoral process. In essence, the country had strong institutions that are completely absent today.

Russia of that time had one of the most sophisticated independent jury courts in Europe

In that country, the tsar lagged behind the active political life and remained firmly entrenched in his outdated autocratic rule, to the extent that the military had to intervene in politics. It was an exceptional occurrence for Russia.

In the political landscape that followed the Decembrist uprising, the army remained largely detached from political involvement for almost a century. Furthermore, the majority of Russian officers had little comprehension of politics and lacked awareness of alternative systems of government. They found themselves powerless amidst political upheavals.

Given this context, it is particularly astonishing that individuals in military attire suddenly emerged onto the political scene with non-monarchical perspectives. General Kornilov, who is now being often remembered, did not advocate for the restoration of monarchy but instead supported the convening of a Constituent Assembly, which would determine the country's governmental structure. Even during the early stages of the Civil War, both General Kornilov and General Denikin tenaciously adhered to the belief in the “non-predetermination” approach. They envisioned winning the war and subsequently conducting free elections for the Constituent Assembly, which would hold the ultimate decision-making power. Thus, it becomes clear that Prigozhin is in no way comparable to Kornilov.

Putin was also wrong in invoking the year 1917. He had hollowed out present-day Russia, which had remained oblivious to its own condition. Prigozhin and his unsuccessful march are a reflection of this Russia.

However, to some extent, the Kremlin's panic that lasted only a day can be understood. The million-strong city of Rostov-on-Don was easily and effortlessly captured, or rather surrendered, without resistance. Then came Voronezh. The entire Russian South could have easily erupted in flames. 25,000 furious, armed, trained people with combat experience, all under the command of one deranged yet popular individual, were marching towards the capital. And the person they followed, who not long ago was just a local thug in St. Petersburg, now saw himself as some sort of Napoleon!

25,000 furious, armed, trained people with combat experience, all under the command of one deranged yet popular individual, were marching towards the capital

Credit must be given to Prigozhin, as he is a man with imagination, and perhaps even a sense of taste. He might have read more books than one would assume based on his biography. After all, when envisioning his campaign towards Moscow, he surely saw himself as a triumphant leader.

Of course, in reality, he would only have any resemblance to Napoleon if he persuaded Sobyanin to set Moscow ablaze. Well, just close your eyes and imagine a bronze bust of Prigozhin on a desk. However, nothing is impossible for us; Russia is a land of possibilities.

But let's forget about Napoleon. We had Pugachev. He may not have spoken French, but he was also a serious character who shed much blood. In terms of archaic behavior, Prigozhin's campaign resembled the Pugachev rebellion.

However, historical parallels would be worth exploring if Prigozhin had continued his path to the end. It seemed like he had the potential, playing a high-stakes game, even if it had ended in a nightmare. But he did not embark on a full-scale military coup that, if successful, would have made him the dictator of Russia. He would have basked in popular love and bloodshed. It would have been short-lived but surely memorable. However, that gamble proved too grand for Prigozhin.

Just as Kisa Vorobyaninov <a character in a famous Russian novel “The Twelve Chairs” by Ilf and Petrov - The Insider> had his inner self as a registry office clerk emerge at a critical moment, in this historical moment, it was Putin's cook who found a voice through Evgeny Prigozhin.

As for the people whom Prigozhin led, they ultimately didn't care where they were going—they were mercenaries. Granted, in Moscow and its surroundings, they could have indulged themselves and satisfied their desires. Estates would have gone up in flames in the best Russian traditions, and they would have garnered popular support for their actions.

This time, it didn't unfold as such. The “Russian rebellion, senseless and merciless” did not take place. That's one conclusion. It seems temporary and easily reversible.

The second conclusion is that the peculiar denouement occurred somewhat independently of Putin, who is neither a victor nor even appears as one in this situation. One would have expected the spirit of present-day Russia to demand a resolution akin to Catherine the Great versus Pugachev, with a vibrant public spectacle featuring a cage for the rebellious insurgent. Nikita Mikhalkov could have evoked the old ways and directed this grand performance, at great expense.

But none of that transpired. Instead, there was a disgraceful commotion: a criminal case against Prigozhin was hastily initiated, only to be promptly closed. In the process, the fallen crews of the helicopters and planes brought down by Prigozhin's thugs were disregarded. There is a sense that Prigozhin will meet his demise, quietly and covertly. Such is the style of the current regime.

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