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"Putin’s weakness unmasked"
1. What follows are excerpts from a “Daily Comment” piece, written by David Remnick, editor of The New Yorker. According to his bio at newyorker.com, Mr. Remnick “began his reporting career in 1982, as a staff writer at the Washington Post, where he covered stories for the Metro, Sports, and Style sections. In 1988, he started a four-year assignment as a Washington Post Moscow correspondent, an experience that formed the basis of his 1993 book, “Lenin’s Tomb: The Last Days of the Soviet Empire.” In 1994, “Lenin’s Tomb” received both the Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction and a George Polk Award for excellence in journalism.” Remnick has written six other books, including biographies of Muhammed Ali and Barack Obama.
In today’s “Daily Comment,” he reports on his interview with “Mikhail Zygar, one of the most knowledgeable reporters and commentators on Kremlin power. Zygar is a former editor-in-chief of TV Rain (known as Dozhd in Russian) an independent channel that Putin closed after the start of the war. His 2016 book, “All the Kremlin’s Men” was a best-seller in Russia and a well-sourced examination of Putin’s rule and the inner dynamics of his ruling circle. His new book, “War and Punishment: Putin, Zelensky, and the Path to Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine,” will be published next month. Zygar, who is forty-two, left Russia after the invasion and has been living in Europe. In January, 2023, he wrote an op-ed column in the Times about Prigozhin titled “The Man Challenging Putin for Power.”
With that introduction, some excerpts from the piece:
The relationship between Putin and Prigozhin ruptured during the war as Prigozhin repeatedly went on social-media platforms, particularly the messaging app Telegram, and, in profane, blunt language, lambasted the Russian military leadership for betraying the Wagner Group, denying them ammunition and support, and, generally, botching the war effort against Ukraine.
“They split the moment when Prigozhin started believing he was popular,” Zygar said. Last fall, as Prigozhin criss-crossed Russia recruiting prisoners for the Wagner Group, “he felt like a rock star.” His gift was that he “spoke with them so effectively in their language,” Zygar said. “There came a moment when Prigozhin was no longer Putin’s puppet. Pinocchio became a real boy.”
When I asked Zygar what was the most striking aspect of the uprising, he said, “Putin is weaker. I have the feeling he is not really running the country. Certainly, not the way he once did. He is still President, but all the different clans”—the factions within the government, the military, and, most important, the security services—“now have the feeling that ‘Russia after Putin’ is getting closer. Putin is still alive. He is still there in his bunker. But there is the growing feeling that he is a lame duck, and they have to prepare for Russia after Putin.
Zygar went on, “The F.S.B. [a successor to the K.G.B.] and G.R.U. [military intelligence] is not a single clan; it is a mixture of different clans, and we will see how they are going to react. For years, Putin has selected his inner circle with only one criterion: a lack of ambition. They are not the best of the best. They are the worst of the worst. So how will such mediocrities face up to one desperately brave person, or a desperately brave group of terrorists? We will see.”
If Putin were to fall sometime soon, Zygar says, he could be succeeded by extremely hard-line elements supported by the security services, or a “relatively” more liberal clan represented by Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin and the mayor of Moscow, Sergey Sobyanin.
The drama, of course, is taking place while Ukraine has begun a counter-offensive against the invading Russian Army. “This is a historical chance for Ukraine,” Zygar said. “They need to attack right now. This is the moment when the Russian Army is busy with internal problems.”
But, at the same time, there is no guarantee that the current chaos in Russia is purely good news for the Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelensky. Zygar is concerned that after such a domestic embarrassment like the Prigozhin affair Putin might lash out abroad and escalate the war in Ukraine.
This does not really do justice to Mr. Remnick’s piece. Best to read the whole thing. (Source: newyorker.com, bolded sentences by me)