Mr. Prigozhin Goes to Washington

Photograph Source: Government of the Russian Federation – CC BY 3.0

The glee that greeted the news that Yevgeny Prigozhin, Russian oligarch and the titular head of the Wagner Group, had gone rogue might have been unseemly if the American political establishment were capable of shame. It isn’t. That alleged adults would hope for the dissolution of Russia, and the catastrophic social consequences that would follow, requires an ignorance of history that would be heroic if it were consciously chosen. The truism that people don’t know what they don’t know has particular relevance for the US in the current political moment.

The details of the story are reasonably well known by now and won’t be restated here except where relevant. Missing from Western press accounts since Russia launched its SMO (Special Military Operation) is the actual history that led to the conflict. On his way to Rostov-on-Don Prigozhin stepped into this absence with a series of anti-historical claims regarding the start of the war, all while asserting his allegiance to Vladimir Putin. Knowing nothing about the war outside of the talking points handed it by the Biden administration, the American press had a collective wargasm at the sight of a Russian channeling CIA talking points.

As fresh as current events may ‘feel,’ the US has been interfering in the internal affairs of Russia for well over a century. Racist crank and Progressive fascist Woodrow Wilson created the Committee on Public Information to sell WWI to the American people. As the war was winding down, Wilson deployed the American Expeditionary Force to Russia to reverse the Bolshevik Revolution. Ironically (not), the Brits and French also sent Expeditionary Forces toward this same end. The point: most of the anti-Russian West currently supporting the NATO proxy war in Ukraine has been at it since the early twentieth century.

Graph: in this simplified hypothetical based on current differences between US and Russian military spending, the ratio of US to Russian spending in Year 1 is 10:1, while the dollar amount of the difference is $90 ($100 – $10) . By Year 10, the ratio remains the same (10:1), while the cumulative dollar difference has risen to $900. The US spent $1,000 on its military while the Russians spent $100. Applying market logic (value = expenditure), the US has produced ten times as much ordinance and materiel as the Russian have. And yet Russia is a military threat? Source: Urie.

The political posturing around Prigozhin’s tour of Rostov-on-Don has largely been a restatement of the national-security-state-informed views of the regular consumers of American state propaganda. As evidenced by Prigozhin’s now well-censored statements on the internet, he spouted Biden administration talking points regarding the causes of the war (‘unprovoked’), interspersed with claims that the Russian military leadership is more interested in earning medals than with winning wars.

“Just before World War I ended, in 1918, an American force of seven thousand landed at Vladivostok as part of an Allied intervention in Russia and remained until early 1920. Five thousand more troops were landed at Archangel, another Russian port, also as part of an Allied expeditionary force, and stayed for almost a year. The State Department told Congress: “All these operations were to offset effects of the Bolshevik revolution in Russia.”” Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States

The video of Prigozhin contradicting the historical events that Russian President Vladimir Putin cited as the proximate cause for Russia’s SMO (Special Military Operation) appears to have been disappeared from the internet. In opposition to OSCE maps of Ukrainian forces amassed at the border of Donbas in January 2022 as they shelled ethnic Russian Ukrainians, Prigozhin instead stated that Mr. Putin, whose claims were supported by the maps, was lying. To be clear, the OSCE is an EU institution with no ties to the Russian state.

News that ‘US spy agencies’ had briefed Congress on Prigozhin’s plans well before he stumbled back into Russia indicates foreknowledge. With US President Joe Biden stating that the US played no role in the rebellion, his audience has been reduced to the rapidly shrinking number of citizens of the world who find his views interesting, plausible, or relevant. Recent (alleged) leaks of Pentagon, DoD, and intelligence agency documents by Jack Teixeira put a lie to the Biden administration’s happy talk regarding Ukrainian military prowess.

Teixeira’s leaks revealed a much grimmer view of the war up to the present, as well as raising substantive questions regarding Ukraine’s prospects for the Spring / Summer ‘surge.’ In fact, the surge was halted immediately prior to Prigozhin’s holiday in Russia. Whether this represents abject failure on the part of the Ukrainians, the pause that refreshes, or anticipation of Prigozhin’s rebellion, has not been disclosed.

Described as an attempted ‘coup’ in the American press, Prigozhin subsequently claimed that that wasn’t the motive for his actions. Whether this is true, or he got cold feet when the leading institutions of the Russian state rallied around Vladimir Putin, is a question for the history books. That US intelligence agencies had foreknowledge of Prigozhin’s actions gives them a ‘Maidan’ feel. That most Americans have no knowledge that the US ousted the duly elected president of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, in a US-led coup in 2013 – 2014, helps explain American support for the war.

Retired US Colonel Douglas MacGregor, a frequent and insightful commentator on events in Ukraine, is convinced that Prigozhin’s motives had little to do with a coup attempt. MacGregor’s theory is that the Russian military leadership, including Prigozhin, is frustrated with the slow pace of the war, particularly following the apparent implosion of the Ukrainian ‘surge.’ However, foreknowledge by US intelligence agencies, combined with the specifics of Prigozhin’s rant regarding the American starting point for the war, suggests that there is more to the story.

Prigozhin challenged the history of the war in terms that came straight from CIA talking points. The Russian explanation since the winter of 2021 has been 1) the war started with the American-led coup in Ukraine in 2013 – 2014, that in turn led to 2) and eight-year civil war in Ukraine in which 3) tens of thousands of ethnic Russian Ukrainians were slaughtered by the Banderite right (a.k.a. Nazis) supported by the US. Using maps from the OSCE, the Russians concluded that the Ukrainians were about to launch a major offensive against ethnic Russian Ukrainians in Donbass.

The Americans have maintained that the Russian offensive in Ukraine was ‘unprovoked,’ as in bearing no relation to the 2013 – 2014 US led coup there, the subsequent civil war, or the three-plus decades of the US moving NATO troops and weapons up to Russia’s border against repeated requests from the Russians not to do so. This Western anti-history is what Yevgeny Prigozhin was shouting when he announced his move of Wagner Group troops into Russia. Facts that were widely considered true before the SMO was launched are now verboten in the US.

Colonel MacGregor’s view that Prigozhin is frustrated with the restrained pace of the Russian military offensive in Ukraine doesn’t seem a complete explanation of recent events. Firstly, most Americans have no idea that the Russian pace has been restrained. To the extent there has been opposition to the war inside Russia, a substantial portion of it comes from the fact that the Ukrainian military and political leadership still exist in any incarnate form. ‘Shock and awe’ are how the Americans destroy a nation.

Unless Prigozhin is claiming that the OSCE is serving Russia’s war propaganda interests with its maps— a low probability endeavor, then he was giving a pledge of allegiance to the US / NATO / Ukraine war effort with his shouted announcement of the Wagner Group’s move into Russia. This would help explain the foreknowledge of his actions by Western intelligence agencies. It also contradicts US President Joe Biden’s wide-eyed insistence that the US was not in league with Prigozhin.

However, the Russians aren’t the intended audience for Biden’s rambling incoherence. ‘The world,’ meaning the governments that in theory represent the interests of 80% of the world’s population, supported Russia when Prigozhin went on summer holiday, and they still do today. This puts the incoherence of the American liberal conceit that they (liberals) represent the interests of the world’s downtrodden into perspective. The Global South supports Russia, not the US. Why would this be the case if Americans are regarded as liberators abroad?

Parallels between Joe Biden and Woodrow Wilson are mounting. Both are / were liberal technocrats who institutionalized racist and fascist / repressive policies while proclaiming themselves to be the saviors of humanity through ill-advised wars. WWI lit the world on fire. Colonel MacGregor argues, with some justification, that there wouldn’t have been a Bolshevik Revolution without massive Russian losses in WWI. Sergei Eisenstein’s ‘Battleship Potemkin’ brings some of these tensions to light.

“Oceania was at war with Eurasia: therefore Oceania had always been at war with Eurasia. The enemy of the moment always represented absolute evil, and it followed that any past or future agreement with him was impossible.” George Orwell, 1984

So again, concern inside Russia over the slow pace of the war contradicts everything that Americans have been told about it. While recent leaks of DoD and intelligence agency documents suggest that the lives of hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian conscripts have been lost to date, CNN and the New York Times have gone full-Orwell. American development economist Jeffrey Sachs, who was invited by the State Department to visit Ukraine during the Maidan ‘uprising,’ explains why and how it was a US sponsored coup here.

More to the point, a large contingent of American liberals have argued for eighteen months that the war in Ukraine should continue until Ukraine is victorious. This argument means one thing if the Ukrainians are winning the war, and quite another if they aren’t. The (alleged) Teixeira leaks reveal 1) that what American officials have been saying publicly about the progress of the war is contradicted by what they say about it in private, and 2) that the official assessment has it that things are going quite poorly for Ukraine.

This puts American supporters of the war in the position of volunteering Ukrainians to die for a war that they (the Americans) don’t understand. And yet there is no accountability. The proverbial ‘you’ had your facts wrong and large numbers of Ukrainian conscripts died as a result. But this is America. ‘You’ get promoted for having your facts wrong. A lot of people died as a result. However, as word from the Global South has it, the Lilliputians are rebelling.

An institutional problem in the US is that the domestic forces that instigated and continue to support the war risk losing power if the public turns against it. With Joe Biden representing the interests of the MIC (Military-Industrial Complex), Wall Street, the technology industry, and US-based oil and gas industry, the fear is that fake anti-war Republicans can pull a Nixon and shift the war, and with it, donor support, from Democrat to Republican hands. Unfortunately for both the self-styled heroes and villains in this scenario, Ukraine is losing the war.

What should put the fear of Buddha, Yahweh, God, into actual Americans, as opposed to the American political class, is the sanguine discourse being used to assert that nuclear wars are winnable. Go back and read the logic of American nuclear arms production from the 1950s – 1970s and you find talk of nuclear weapons being ‘cheap’ to produce relative to the cost of conventional military ordnance. That low stocks of non-nuclear ordnance could create a choice between surrendering or using nuclear weapons when adverse conditions arise suggests that, with NATO stocks running low, the adult children in the Biden administration could roll-the-dice by using nukes.

Moreover, with the MIC running US foreign policy, the temptation to use the war to sell newer ‘tactical’ nuclear weapons to an international clientele by demonstrating them on the battlefield is likely strong. The same Alfred E. Neumanesque mindset that claimed that Americans would be greeted as liberators when they invaded Iraq in 2003 imagines that the Russians aren’t serious about their nuclear red lines. The fake history of the Cuban Missile Crisis that Americans have been fed represents the MIC standard. By 1962 the Americans had installed first-strike nuclear weapons within miles of Russia (USSR) as they pretended to be shocked that the Soviets would do the same.

Likewise, much of the violence attributed to the Bolsheviks following the Bolshevik Revolution was spillover from WWI sweeping Eastern Europe and the Baltic states. WWI lasted from 1914 – 1918, while the Bolshevik Revolution took place in 1917, but wasn’t settled until 1922, when the (Soviet) Civil War ended. Again, the Americans, Brits, and French sent standing armies to reverse the Bolshevik victory in order to install a liberal, Western-friendly, government that would guarantee the property of Western investors in the USSR following the Revolution.

The Americans lost 117,000 troops in WWI while the Russians lost five and one-half million. The extreme brutality of WWII was a product of residual animosities from WWI. The Holocaust, for which German Nazis were blamed, was replicated across Eastern Europe and the Baltic states. To be clear, these other Holocausts were contemporaneous with the Nazi Holocaust, not inspired by it. While pogroms inspired by European anti-Semitism existed prior to the rise of the Nazis, conflation of Bolshevism with Judaism tied WWII to capitalist imperialism.

“Thousands of Nazis—from concentration camp guards to high-level officers in the Third Reich—came to the United States after World War II and quietly settled into new lives. They had little trouble getting in. With scant scrutiny, many gained entry on their own as self-styled war “refugees,” their pasts easily disguised and their war crimes soon forgotten. But some had help and protection: from the United States government. The CIA, the FBI, and the military all put Hitler’s minions to work as spies, intelligence assets and leading scientists and engineers, whitewashing their histories.” Eric Lichtblau, The New York Times.

Forgotten today is that many Westerners at the time, particularly amongst the elites, were virulently anti-Semitic. Former New York Times reporter Eric Lichtblau, the author of The Nazis Next Door, details the casual anti-Semitism that informed US General George Patton’s worldview here. In contemporaneous political and public policy circles inside the US, the Nazis were viewed more as anti-communist fellow-travelers than the genocidal maniacs they are viewed as today. Once selective history is set to the side, fellow-travelers seems the more plausible interpretation.

The neo-Realist ‘Great Powers’ nonsense that is popular again since the launch of the Russian SMO is a ‘political’ exposition of ideas and events that found their basis in imperial economic competition. Consider: Joe Biden’s explanation of the US interest in Ukraine is first and foremost economic— to prevent Russia from controlling Europe through European dependence on Russian oil and gas. To be clear, Biden has no problem with the idea of economic dependence. His problem is with a Russian role in it.

Consider: economic dependence is an unexplained phenomenon in capitalist economics because it implies coercive power. Before the launch of Russia’s SMO, Russia was selling its oil and gas to Europe at a subsidized price, making it more attractive to European industry, while consigning said industries to the vagaries of Russian national interests. Paying a market price for oil and gas would raise costs for European industry, either crimping profits or making European products more expensive on world markets (also crimping profits). This gave the Russian state coercive power over European states through ‘their’ industries.

Recent US Presidents understood this, hence the unity of Donald Trump and Joe Biden acting to prevent the Russians from supplying Europe with Russian oil and gas. But what happened to the ‘freedom’ to purchase goods and services, including Russian oil and gas, from whomever one cares to? In American liberal logic, Ukraine has the ‘right’ to associate with NATO if it cares to, just like the Germans and French have (had) the ‘right’ to buy discounted oil and gas from Russia. The ‘fascist’ response was to blow up the pipeline— a.k.a. Nord Stream I and Nord Stream II.

While this isn’t the place for a full-blown exposition of the hypocrisies and paradoxes of capitalism, what the US is doing abroad isn’t capitalism as it is explained by its theoreticians. But it is capitalism as explained by Marxists. Capitalist imperialism is a corporate-state amalgam that exists to send state resources abroad for the benefit of nominally capitalist enterprises at home. An alternative name for this capitalist imperialism is fascism. The political-theoretical difference between state-capitalism and fascism lies in who it is that controls the state.

This Marxist view of capitalism placed the Germans as imperial competitors of the US in both World Wars. This is quite different from the current moral view of the Nazis as reprehensible human beings. From Eric Lichtblau’s reporting (above), moral clarity regarding the Nazis emerged for the Americans in proportion to the number of anti-Semitic Americans from the WWII era who have died off. That Joe Biden represents the moral vanguard of the American liberal class would be ironic if it weren’t so pathetic.

With the most expensive military in the world by a factor of ten, one might imagine that the US would be well-supplied with armaments. According to Colonel MacGregor, this isn’t the case. MacGregor laid out some fair portion of the path from an insufficient supply of conventional weapons to the use of nuclear weapons by the Americans. The obvious question of where the world’s most expensive military is spending its money seems relevant here. While speculation can go far in developing an explanation, the threat of nuclear annihilation is the more pressing result.

With the Americans having refused to implement multiple peace agreements that have been signed between the Ukrainians and the Russians, the NATO proxy war in Ukraine is now an American war. And while the American liberals who support the war deserve whatever consequences might come their way, the rest of the world doesn’t. End the war now.

Rob Urie is an artist and political economist. His book Zen Economics is published by CounterPunch Books.