If you have a chance, read this piece by The New Yorker’s David Remnick. As always with David, it’s very good. He interviews an independent Russian journalist who left the country after Russia invaded Ukraine. As both make clear, it’s very hard to know what’s really happening in Russia, even for Russians and even for Russians who have a strong understanding of the internal mechanisms of power. Opacity is an intrinsic feature of Russian political culture. The gist is that that this makes a major dent in Putin’s power and likely hastens his exit from the scene. But there’s no guarantee that departure is any time soon. It’s probably a good thing for Ukraine, unless it isn’t. We also can’t rule out some dramatic worsening of the situation if Putin’s escalates in an effort to reassert power and dominance or if he is succeeded by a more violent and fanatic figure.
The other key point is to remember that Prigozhin has all of Putin’s predatory revanchist populism, only to a greater degree. His fighters are responsible for myriad atrocities and barbarities not only in Ukraine but in conflict zones in Africa and the Middle East. Indeed, the root of his political power is the perception that he’s more authentically populist and ruthless than Putin. This is the language and posture Putin used to sell and embed his power a generation ago. But Putin’s a more distant figure today, unmistakably bathed in unimaginable wealth, shuttling from one secluded villa to the next. While Prigozhin is himself spectacularly wealthy, like most everyone in Putin’s inner circle, he plays the street gangster, routinely in fatigues, visibly amidst his fighters, clearly in the events of this weekend willing to risk his life.
Give it a read. From what I can tell it’s open even if you don’t have a New Yorker subscription.
Late Update: This column by David Ignatius in the Post, focusing more the U.S. response and international situation, is also worth reading.