The Prighozin Rebellion & the 3rd Offensive

Photograph Source: RG72 – CC BY-SA 4.0

Much has been made in the US propaganda heavy public media about the recently aborted ‘rebellion’ by Russia’s mercenary ‘Wagner’ division led by former fast food restauranteur Russian oligarch, Prighozin. The US media and neocons in US government are trying to paint a picture the whole affair means there’s a deep crisis in the Russian government and major weakening of Putin’s regime. At least that’s the spin. But western media has not been all that accurate to date in its public portrayal of events in the Ukraine war.

In reality, the Prighozin affair likely has enabled a consolidation of the Putin regime in Russia. Moreover, alternative facts are slowly coming out removing the veil of events that led up to Prigohizin’s rebellion.

One such fact is that weeks ago the Russian defense ministry moved to disband the Wagner forces. It announced weeks ago it would sign contracts with individual Wagner fighters, paying them even more than Prighozin. to resign with Russian Ministry of Defense (MOD) special forces units. But if they signed a contract with the MOD, then they obviously wouldn’t re-sign up with Prighozin. That meant Prighozin would not be paid anything remotely close to the $950M he got from the MOD in 2022-23 (+ another $900B paid by the MOD last year to Prigozhin’s food business for providing supplies). Prighiozin’s own contract with the MOD had already expired in early May 2023 and the MOD had not renewed it. In short, Prighozin the capitalist oligarch–selling military arms instead of hot dogs–was about to go out of business having lost his main customer.

Was his rebellion therefore a desperate effort on his part to force the Russian govt to renegotiate a new deal? Was Prighozin just another capitalist oligarch maneuvering with the Russian govt to protect his cash flow?

Another interesting fact is the timing of Prighozin’s rebellion.  The Wagner forces were being scaled down in terms of logistics and support by the MOD after the fall of Bakhmut. It appears they were pulled out of Bakhmut even more its final fall. And if Seymour Hersh is right (see his June 29 article posted below), the the Wagner was already moved out of the front lines and sent to a camp near the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don, the regional Russian army center for the Ukraine war. Unlike the western media’s report, therefore, Wagner forces did not ‘march on Rostov-on-Don’ and from there embark toward Moscow. They were already posted there at Rostov before they decided in part to move out on the road to Moscow.

Yet another interesting set of facts now just coming out is that Prighozin reportedly had met with US/UK intelligence sources in Africa several months ago (where Wagner forces are also engaged). What was that all about? Reportedly Russian intelligence discovered the contacts just days before Prighozin’s rebellion and march on Moscow. Did that discovery by Russian intelligence just days before precipitate his march on Moscow prematurely? And why did the media in the UK predict a coming rebellion by Wagner in the days leading up to the fact? US/UK intelligence knew Prighozin’s rebellion was coming. Were they waiting to launch the Ukraine offensive which was repeatedly delayed? The timing of the rebellion with the launch of the Ukraine offensive is thus suspect. Was it just coincidence?

The picture painting by Prighozin in the media in the weeks leading up to the rebellion was that the Bakhmut-victorious Wagner were suffering casualties because the Russian MOD weren’t providing them ammunition or air support. There was even the claim Russian forces fired on the Wagner. But that may or may not be accurate. More likely, when Wagner was pulled out of Bakhmut just prior to its fall and then relocated to a camp at Rostov-on-Don–just as Prighozin’s contract with the MOD was allowed to lapse without renegotiation and MOD simultaneously started offering Wagner fighters a better contract to join its own special forces–Prighozin knew his lucrative game was up.

He may then have been tipped off that his contacts with western intelligence were discovered by Russian intelligence. He may have sensed he had no choice but to gamble and ‘march on Moscow’ to see if he could cut a new deal for himself. He apparently did, being allowed to go to Belarus. It’s unlikely he’ll remain there, however. He’ll be eventually prosecuted while in exile, according to Putin. Belarus may even extradite him back to Moscow–once the Wagner fighters are fully dispersed into the Russian army. Or put him on an airplane to some destination. So where will he turn up? No one knows. Maybe somewhere in the west. Or even a Moscow detention center.

The demise of Prighozin and absorption of Wagner forces may represent a new phase in Russia’s ‘Special Military Operation’. It may signal Russia has decided on a primarily defensive strategy to hold and consolidate the four provinces (called ‘Oblasts’) that it formally integrated into Russia back in September 2022. It will allow the Ukrainian army to deplete itself bashing its head against Russia’s deep defense wall in the Donbass and south. Ukraine’s offensive is already going badly, with few gains at great costs after more than three weeks. If it cannot make real gains by mid-July when NATO next meets in Vilnius, Lithuania, some kind of NATO reassessment of the war might occur.  A failed Prigozhin rebellion and growing losses in men and equipment with little gain by the offensive, raises the specter of Ukraine’s inability to ‘win’ and a bottomless pit of money and equipment, and perhaps even troops from the west, may be necessary. It’s extremely unlike Europe NATO members are willing to pay that price.

As this writer has noted elsewhere, no amount of western ‘wonder weapons’ can ensure a Ukrainian victory so long as Russia holds clear advantage in air superiority and a 10 to 1 advantage in artillery and is deeply entrenched in defensive positions. The ground forces of Ukraine and Russia are about equal in the eastern and southern fronts, about 500,000 each. But offensives require at minimum a 5 to 1 troop and equipment advantage to prevail. Neither side has that kind of advantage over the other to mount a successful offensive. Ukraine is reportedly already losing men and material at a 10 to 1 ration, about 13,000 killed in less than a month.

Russia apparently realizes the relationship of military forces is such that a World War II like general offensive by either side cannot succeed and has dug in defensively; Ukraine has not. And perhaps it can’t. The NATO/US forces providing the Zelensky regime with billions of dollars and euros and a flow of military hardware (dispersed in small distributions weekly) cannot make a decisive difference in the eventual outcome of the war.

First the media told us that javelin missiles would be decisive. Then it was US provided Himars and M777 artillery. Then Patriot anti-missiles. Then German Leopard tanks. Next it will be US F-16 fighter planes. And then maybe US long range ATACMS artillery capable of hitting the Russian naval base at Sebastopol, Crimea. It’s all somewhat reminiscent of Nazi claims in 1944 of wonder weapons that would turn the tide of war. No amount of hardware can substitute for the lack of sufficient ratio of troops on the ground needed to carry out a successful offensive. Again, that ratio is about even today. Ukraine would need at least 2-3 million men in arms for a successful general offensive. It has about a fifth of that.

The principles of warfare explained several centuries ago by the Prussian military theorist of modern war, von Clausewitz, still pertain to the Ukraine War (principles later reaffirmed by Napoleon’s theorist de Jomini, Britain’s Riddell Hardt, China’s Mao, Vietnam’s Giap and others). At the top of the list of those principles are the need for a Concentration of superior forces, Internal lines of logistics, sufficient reserves, and mobility and surprise. Ukraine’s military no longer enjoys any of these advantages. It’s once temporary advantage in concentration and surprise, in its late summer 2022 ‘Kharkhov offensive’, has disappeared when Russia mobilized 400,000 more over the winter and concentrated them in the east and south. (Similarly, Russia had an advantage ratio in its early February-April 2022 initial offensive but that ended with Ukraine’s summer 2022 mobilization. Ukraine then caught the Russians by surprise in its August 2022 Kharkhov offensive when it had a concentration of force advantage as well. That ended when the Russians consolidated in the Donbass and Kherson oblast and mobilized its equivalent concentration. That more or less equal standoff has prevailed as Ukraine launched its June offensive, the 3rd in the war.

In its current (3rd?) offensive Ukraine now once again lacks the ability to concentrate sufficient forces for a successful offensive. Given Russian artillery, air superiority, and the dribbling out of equipment and ammunition from NATO, it lacks the ability to mount an adequate offensive for multiple reasons. Moreover, its offensive is reminiscent of World War II or armored battalions rushing across open plains. However, modern war technologies (drones, smart bombs, missiles, satellite and electronic surveillance, etc.) make maneuvering by armored battalions across open plains virtually impossible, especially when lacking air superiority and artillery advantages. The Ukraine war is simply not about massive tank clashes on the ‘eastern front’ in 1942-44.

Thus the war will soon freeze on the ground as Ukraine’s inability to break through Russian defenses becomes increasingly evident and Russia’s not about to repeat Ukraine’s offensive strategy debacle. Russia has moved to a defensive strategy that welcomes Ukraine to break its head against its defensive in depth stone wall combined with air superiority and 10 to 1 artillery advantage. Ukraine will eventually begin to run out of men on the ground to waste should it continue as it is. It will therefore halt its offensive before August. When that happens NATO & US will have to decide whether to openly send in support troops (the presidents of Poland and Lithuania are now in Kyiv discussing just that with Zelensky). If so, the troops will likely occupy non-combat roles in western Ukraine so that Zelensky can release more Ukrainian troops to the eastern front. No doubt Poland sees this as an opportunity to begin staking out a claim to western Ukraine (formerly Polish territory) should an eventual armistice deal with Russia end up splitting Ukraine like a Korea–which remains a not unlikely outcome.

But if Russia strategically has decided on a defensive strategy defining its SMO (special military operation), Ukraine cannot win and the US/NATO won’t feed it arms and supplies forever. Russia’s strategy is longer term. It will let Ukraine try to destroy itself on its defensive lines and wait out the political changes that will almost certainly come with the US elections in November 2024 (and in several European parliamentary changes before that).

Biden’s war will prove to be a US neocon-instigated geopolitical disaster, just like the neocon instigated wars in Afghanistan and middle east were, costing $8 trillion with little to nothing to show for it. Indeed, even less than little as Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey, Egypt and others tilt toward China, Russia and the BRICS in trade relations and investment and away from the US dollar. The Ukraine war adventure may prove the event that sinks the Biden electoral ship, already taking on economic water from chronic inflation, deeper recession and growing regional bank instability.

Biden’s electoral support fades by the month. The Fed has just signaled central bank interest rates will now continue to rise through the rest of 2023 while inflation in services is likely to remain chronic nonetheless. Higher interest rates may well precipitate a worse regional banking crisis by year end and into 2024, as deeper recession and higher costs combine to exacerbate a Commercial Real Estate sector already top heavy with $17 trillion in junk debt–of which no less than $1.7T will need to ‘roll over’ (i.e. be refinanced) within the next 12 months. The Fed in its recent ‘stress tests’ this past week projects a possible scenario of 40% asset price deflation in the Commercial Real Estate sector. That means banks may balk at refinancing much of the existing junk debt. In turn that means bankruptcies, defaults and more bailouts by the Fed and FDIC will be required for a regional banking system already being propped up by the Fed at the rate of $95 billion/week.

It’s hard to imagine how chronic inflation, deeper recession, possible worse banking instability converge in an election year, 2024, without a further drop in Biden/Democrat voter support. Meanwhile, opponents will point to the Ukraine war and how the US is throwing away more than $250 billion to keep Ukraine’s government and military afloat.

Biden is repeating the errors and failure of his predecessor and president, Johnson, in 1968. LBJ’s regime  crashed on the rocks of the war in Vietnam. Double digit inflation followed, as did the worse recession in 1973-75 since great depression. Isolated cases of financial instability erupted and the US had to abandon the Bretton Woods international monetary system in 1973 and allow the US dollar to deeply depreciate. Economic stagnation and political instability was the legacy for the rest of the 1970s decade. Costly, unwinnable wars have a way of coinciding with economic deterioration with unknown political consequences. 

Today something similar to the crisis of the 1970s is emerging, albeit perhaps this time even worse in terms of economic decline and political instability. As in the 1970s, the US economy is experiencing chronic inflation. Recession is on the near horizon if not already here. US imperial hegemony is under growing challenge. The US dollar is being questioned globally. And financial instability is no longer limited to the weakest individual companies but industry (regional banks) and sectorally (financial system) wide and even globally since today the world has been economically globalized and financialized, and due to technology prone to almost immediate contagion.  So the situation is even more precarious for Biden’s re-election 2024 than it was for the Democrats in 1968. Despite his legal issues, Trump is already out-polling Biden and the gap is widening, especially among independents.

In other words, the Prighozin affair is just a blip in the ongoing geopolitical and economic picture in which the US economic empire is under increasing strain on multiple fronts. The rebellion is just a single event in a war that appears increasingly protracted and unwinnable for Ukraine. The outcome of it will be determined by economic and political events in the west, not by movements of troops and armor on the plains of eastern Ukraine.

The deeper meaning of the rebellion is that Prighozin outlived his usefulness to the Russian war effort. As the Seymour Hersh article re-posted below argues, Wagner’s offensive style special operations no longer fit with Russia’s primarily defensive strategy at this juncture. Wagner suffered significant losses in its offensive at Bakhmut, most of which were recently conscripted prisoners Prighozin had quickly mobilized, briefly trained, and rushed to the front–something it appears Ukraine is now doing as well. Russia’s army isn’t about to waste manpower in that way at this stage of the conflict. It doesn’t have to. But apparently Zelensky must–with losses reportedly at a ratio of 10 Ukrainians for every Russian in the current offensive. If Zelensky wants to continue the inflow of US/NATO arms and money he must continue his offensive–and show some results. Even though the principles of war indicate he cannot. In contrast, Russia has decided not to launch a similar World War II like offensive, sending battalions of armor and men across the open plain crashing into an adversary’s defensive wall. Modern military technology has rendered that kind of offensive, reminiscent of World War II, outmoded.Tanks and armor–just like warships at sea as well–are ‘sitting ducks’, as they say. And, as another saying goes, the generals always fight the last war. 

Russia decided weeks ago, apparently back in March, that Prighozin and Wagner forces’ offensive tactics were unnecessarily wasteful of men and materials and had little role to play in its defensive strategic shift. Prighozin and Wagner served their purpose in the early phase of the Ukraine war. But Prighozin would not accept this. His ‘business model’ was based on a contrary military strategy. Nor could he accept that his contract was not being renewed and his assets (his best fighters) were being sold off to another buyer (Ministry of Defense). The Russian MOD simply pulled the plug on him and the lights went out on any possibility for another $2 billion revenue for 2023-24!

Like any good capitalist oligarch, in an act of desperation he then tried to keep his $2 billion business going and revenue coming in. There’s some evidence he may have been seeking a new partner abroad. When discovered he was perhaps considering jumping ship to another supplier, he then played his ‘last card’ and launched his march on Moscow to try to force a new deal for himself. It was a desperate adventure, a kind of a Russian version of Texas ‘all in’ poker. When his bet was called, however, he was unable to raise table stakes further.  Lukashenko had to bail him out with a mediated offer to come to Belarus. So Prighozin’s no longer a player at the war table. But he’s headed for the parking lot with lots of profits in his pocket. The question is: will he get out of the lot safely with all that cash on him?

Jack Rasmus is author of  ’The Scourge of Neoliberalism: US Economic Policy from Reagan to Trump, Clarity Press, January 2020. He blogs at and hosts the weekly radio show, Alternative Visions on the Progressive Radio Network on Fridays at 2pm est. His twitter handle is @drjackrasmus.