The US has kindly provided (dis)information on this question as to what they knew about the debacle of Prigozhin’s half-day coup attempt on June 23-24. The Neocon foreign policy establishment is anxious that Russia should know that the US had no part to play, none whatsoever; except, but, of course, the US administration knew about it some days in advance. If they had passed that information on to Moscow, they say, that surely would not have looked good, given that the two of them (Russia and US) are in mortal combat over Ukraine. Oh, and also, because then Russia might have been destabilized under the control of an unpredictable but calculating looney, and that this might have jeopardized Russia’s nuclear security and, in turn, global protection from the threat of nuclear war (something about which Washington clearly feels very deeply and would never, ever do anything – for example supplying F-16s to ill-trained Ukrainian pilots to fly from Romania – that could possibly provoke such an outcome).

I may not know anything very much but I do know that I have to be very careful before accepting anything that looks remotely like transparency on the part of any US administration.

By far the more interesting question, in my view, and before I continue with the above argument, is what did Putin know and when did he know it?

So far as both the US and Russia are concerned, it has been obvious for many weeks now that Prigozhin was either unhinged or pretending to be so, assuming he was not already a Western agent. I have been arguing for months that private armies are highly dangerous to any political formation, democratic or authoritarian or in-between, and I have been virtually pleading for the quick retirement or dispatch of Prigozhin since manifestations that, at least, appeared to be treasonous disobedience, that were not satisfactorily addressed or acted upon or explained by Russian authorities, and yet clearly played into the hands of the equally deranged collective West.

The role of the collective West in all of this, by the way, must rank among the most idiotic of all western behaviors since the invasion and break-up of Yugoslavia, the still unsatisfactorily justified (and ultimately failed) invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, and its mendacious invasion and occupation of Iraq (whose consequences include the birth of ISIS and the collapse of the credibility of the collective west and of the entire raft of global institutions, including the UN, through which western interests work). And then the demolition of Libya, and the failed ten-year effort at destabilizing Syria, and the disastrous backing for, or should we say instigation of, a neo-nazi orchestrated coup in Kiev in 2014?

It is conceivable that some Wagner forces (it would at no point have been the entirety of them; rather and more likely, those who accompanied Prigozhin on his sightseeing tour along the Rostov-Moscow motorway – perhaps 4,000 – and those who stayed behind in Wagner’s temporary Rostov camp – perhaps another 4,000; note, by the way, that only one Wagner commander supported this action) would have reached Rostov without drawing too much attention to themselves, becoming alarming to authorities only when they took over part of the southern military command in Rostov and a contingent headed off towards Moscow.

I think not. It is not credible to my mind that Moscow was not fully informed by this stage of Prigozhin’s actions, nor that Moscow had not been keeping Prigozhin under very tight surveillance for, at least, since the time – probably well before the time – of rumors of his collaboration with Ukrainian intelligence and the passing to Ukraine of information concerning Russian army locations.

The only reasonable question to ask is: why did Putin not act sooner? I dismiss entirely all gossip to the effect that this was a theatrical drama played out by both parties for some obscure end. Why? Because no State that is run by sane people, as is Russia’s, would for one moment contemplate giving the appearance to the rest of the world or to its own internal enemies, and in a period of international conflict, that they did not have everything under control.

Among the possible interrelated explanations that present themselves: (1) Putin expected to head off the coup before it started, but things began to sour before Prigozhin’s arrival in Rostov or in negotiations with his forces while he was in Rostov; (2) Putin was badly let down – through knavery or incompetence – by the people who would have executed any maneuver to put an end to Prigozhin’s coup – namely his intelligence services and Ministry of Defense senior management or more junior commanding officers closer to the front line; (3) Putin lacked as strong a sense as he should have been afforded as to the limited strength of support for Prigozhin within Wagner, and therefore continued to play a delicate balancing act between imposing military discipline on Wagner forces through absorbing them within the MOD umbrella, while wishing to avoid the appearance of overt conflict, given the damage this might do in giving comfort to the enemy; (4) Prigozhin somehow managed to deceive the entire security apparatus, first of all through lies he told his own men as to the reasons he was going to mount some form of protest against the MOD (as camouflage for an intended coup), and then to those who have been assigned to spy on him, or perhaps whom he had bought out among those who were supposedly spying on him but may have been relaying false information back to Moscow.

As to the question of whether Prigozhin was a western agent, the answer is yes. Prigozhin’s behavior fulfilled all of the criteria for being an agent for the interests of the collective West. First and foremost, and without there being any necessity for it, if his real goal had merely been to protest what he considered the MOD’s incompetent or even corrupt leadership, he totally bought into and vehemently repeated the entire western narrative as to the causes of the conflict. In other words, Progozhin told Russia and the world that many thousands of Russian lives had been sacrificed for a cruel lie. This is not behavior that would be expected of any bona fide military commander in combat. Nor does Prigozhin’s repetition of the lies of the collective West make them true. I believe the collective West’s narrative to be utterly wrong and false and will come to that in a moment.

Secondly, there had been rumors for months that Prigozhin had collaborated with, and was in contact with, Ukrainian intelligence. There had also been many press reports in the West predicting some kind of adverse event for Russia resulting from something that Prigozhin might do. People under such suspicion generally try to avoid any behavior that would reinforce the suspicion. Thirdly, Prigozhin’s pronouncements – e.g. publicly threatening to withdraw his troops, even before victory, from Bakhmut unless and until he received what he considered was his due in terms of ammunition. Internal, private bickering is one thing, but such public statements give comfort to the enemy, weaken the morale of one’s own forces and those of the regular Russian army, and they represent rank disaffection from the military hierarchy. They constitute treason.

Beyond an admirable ability to support and promote the interests of his men, Prigozhin is a poor ideologue. As a billionaire, he will have already been deeply distrusted as a civil leader, across vast swathes of Russia, even amongst those who praised his war valor. At the end of the day, Prigozhin appeared to represent nothing and nobody other than himself.

Does any of this mean that Prigozhin was in direct contact with western intelligence, providing western intelligence with information helpful to his enemy’s cause? Possibly not. But one has to ask how is it possible that any senior intelligence officer, faced with clear indications of dissidence at the topmost levels of a crucial enemy military operation would not exert themselves to make contact, direct or otherwise, with such a potentially useful collaborator? It is inconceivable, to my mind, that there was no actual contact or demonstration of intent to contact.

Is it possible that western intelligence had concluded that Prigozhin’s maximum utility lay in his ability to embarrass or weaken Putin, but that western intelligence had neither sufficient trust in, nor sufficient respect for, Prigozhin that they considered he would make a credible candidate as a replacement for Putin?

I think that is highly possible. They may well have advised, aided, and abetted Prigozhin (who is, after all, not himself a military man) as to how he might stage a coup attempt that the collective west knew must fail. This still leaves open the puzzling questions I have posed as to why it was that Moscow, who must have also been aware of trouble ahead, did not act sooner.

Perhaps it is a lot simpler than we think. Putin saw the force of the attempted coup. He assessed how easily it could be destroyed. He also knew that Prigozhin, when push came to shove, would find no credible or significant support for his coup across the entirety of Russia. Putin himself is enormously popular, more so than is Prigozhin. Putin also assessed the optics danger to himself and to his government of the outbreak of bloody violence between Russians on Russian territory. He was determined to avoid that. He knew his adversary, and he knew that merely upon reading the Riot Act – as Brits affectionately put it – to Prigozhin at the 200-mile marker to Moscow would do the trick.

The clamor in western mainstream media is that Prigozhin, now in Belarus, perhaps soon to be in Timbuktu or somewhere similar, or perhaps soon to be working for Ukrainian intelligence in Ukraine, has weakened Putin. I do not believe there is sufficient evidence at this time to support that view.

If anything, we might conclude that the incident has (1) demonstrated the foolishness, narcissism and knavery of Prigozhin, first and foremost; (2) demonstrated nationwide support for Putin in a way that further silences his critics among liberals who will readily understand that Putin was and is far, far more preferable for them than Prigozhin; (3) warned off the more extreme, nationalist right who can read into the tea-leaves in Prigozhin’s failure a mournful future for themselves; (4) reminded critics of the Ministry of Defense that Russia is fighting a war of attrition more than it is fighting a war for territory, and the forces that are being “attrited” are the forces not just of Ukraine but of the entire, collective West. This is also excellent news for China. (5) And, finally, these events will demonstrate, once again, the extraordinary combination exhibited by Putin of rational and emotional intelligence.

And now, back to the point about the West’s collective narrative. I will refer to an article sent to me by a good friend, one that will suffice to make a start. Entitled “No Other Option: Eastern Ukraine Must be Destroyed to Save it” by Matthew Hoh (Destroy to Save).

Hoh challenges the supposition that Putin had no option other than to invade Ukraine in February 2022 and considers the continuing war to be a waste. He runs through what he fairly believes are some of the negative consequences of this invasion in terms of human suffering. He claims the benefits for Russia have been slim, and counterproductive.

Hoh apparently has no time for the suffering of the peoples of the republics of the Donbass subjected to constant Ukrainian army shelling and nazi Azov harassment in the period 2014-2022 and the denial of basic Ukrainian State benefits. Russia and citizens of the Donbass have consistently claimed that the Ukrainian army greatly reinforced its numbers on the Donbass borders in the days before the invasion, and it is indisputable that Ukraine and its western sponsors had spent the previous eight years building complex fortifications in preparation for just the conflict that has now broken out. Hoh has little time for Ukraine’s aggressive flouting of the Minsk accords which would have required Ukraine only to extend limited autonomy to the Donbass oblasts. He has no time for a superpower, Russia, that has been routinely mocked, derided, belittled; whose legitimate security interests have been denied; whose very existence has been threatened in the form of aggressive military exercises on its border openly targeting it, and by the placement of “defensive” nuclear missile systems in Romania, Poland, even (had it been given NATO membership) Ukraine; and whose dismemberment has been enthusiastically broadcast in Washington think tanks and by the US military industrial complex’s favorite spokesperson, the RAND corporation, that in 2019 even published a report “Extending Russia” that forecast just such a provoked war as actually occurred in 2022. Russia is supposed to be supremely, perpetually and, to be frank, inhumanly above all such slights (just like we can be so sure that the US and collective West regularly demonstrate such extremes of human saintliness?)

When someone holds a gun at your head and demonstrates their intent to fire it at some point of their choosing, is this the time to compose a formal letter of complaint to your local police station or set up a committee to review your options? And if you take active physical measures against your opponent to avoid being blown away, in what sense is this a waste? A waste of your enemy, perhaps and of his potential?

Sad, perhaps, but wrong?

International law, in clinging to simplistic notions of sovereignty, does not adequately deal with the reality of bullying and provocation within a climate of ideological neocon fixity as is demonstrated right now across the collective West and the global institutions and client states it controls.

Lecturing someone threatened with dismemberment about their options is risky, perhaps, especially given that Russia actually did all but reach agreement with Ukraine a month after the initial invasion in the negotiations hosted by Turkey in Istanbul in March 2022. This agreement was deliberately sabotaged by Britain on behalf of the collective West on the basis that the West would provide Ukraine with all the military equipment it could possibly need. Who was the aggressor here?

But let us consider the options that Hoh proposes were available to Russia: (1) An “energy embargo” on Western Europe. But didn’t Europe impose an energy embargo on Russia and take measures to end European dependence on Russian fuel? Impediments which Russia has brilliantly overcome to its own advantage? (2) Closing borders and limiting trade with Ukraine. This might actually have been welcomed by Zelensky and the collective West, and used as a pretext for more bullying and aggression, if not for war. I would say the same with (3) A naval blockade, which in itself would have been an act of war, leading to very similar negative consequences without actually dealing with the problems of the Donbass. As for (4) Efforts to subvert American economic and monetary hegemony. One might as well have counseled Russia to bide its time for a generation. On (5) Diplomatic measures, what does Hoh think Putin was doing for the previous twenty years? Yes, there were people inside Russia who favored a diplomatic solution. Putin was more engaged with the immediate reality of an American administration that was clearly not willing to be engaged on the issue of attempted US nuclear containment of Russia, and with a Ukrainian administration that was happy to go on killing citizens of the Donbass.

In neither this instance, nor, I suspect, in any instance, is war a black-and-white calculation that you either get wrong or get right, whose needle is determined by a precise assessment of the likely numbers of lives that will be lost or damage sustained.

War is a dreadful, monumental challenge to the capacity of human judgment, something that today I believe to be generally agonized over in extremis, involving long and suspenseful consultation with many parties and interests, some of them in direct, and perhaps passionate conflict with one another, all guided by notions of national interest or general good. These conditions pertain under strong leadership, and strong leadership must reach judgment, come what may. In this instance, I believe that strong leadership yielded strong judgment. In matters of war, that is a terrible thing, I agree, but it is not necessarily a wrong or a foolish thing.

Hoh argues that Russia’s actions are counterproductive. Looking at Russia’s economy right now, one is tempted to think that the war as a whole and Russia’s freedom from western profiteering in Russia’s own domestic markets, has greatly strengthened its economic independence and prosperity while the collective West is entering recession; some powerful countries like Germany and Britain suffering de-industrialization and economic stress across the middle and working classes. This itself is somewhat small beer in contrast to the enormous increase which the war, directly and indirectly, has lent to (1) support for the BRICS (whose membership will soon include Saudi Arabia, Iran and Turkey) and its affiliated organizations such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and Eurasian Economic Union, and (2) the cause of multipolarity in general.

That the invasion has strengthened NATO is debatable. Yes, NATO has now extended to include Finland; maybe it will extend to Sweden. This will demonstrate to the entire NATO membership that control of the organization is in danger of being handed over to the Nordic and Baltic countries in association with the most extremely antagonistic of the countries of the former Soviet Union.

With what result? That the alliance is running out of weapons and has discovered that the advanced weapons that it thought it had are actually not so smart, that the weaponization of sanctions is not nearly as persuasive a tool as they once thought, that the entire bloc is headed for – or is now even in – economic recession, as a direct result of the foolish extravagance of its aid (i.e. giveaway of their taxpayer wealth to the armaments industries of the collective west) to Ukraine, that even Germany – the economic powerhouse of Europe – is not just in recession but has been de-industrialized and that with the backing if not the direct culpability of the USA, it has been terrorized by the wilful sabotage of its energy system (Nord Stream) … all on supposed behalf of a country which is not even a member of NATO.

Hoh further argues that Russia cannot win. Until the Fat Lady sings, they say, who knows who will win, and how is “winning” and “losing” defined and in whose interests? In terms of its original stated objectives, Russia has not done badly: it has not only incorporated the pro-Russian oblasts of Luhansk and Donetsk, and in effect now controls most of these, but it has also incorporated the oblasts of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia and controls some 50% of these. I think it possible that Russia may feel that for its own security (especially following Ukrainian cross-border raids around Belgorod) it has to take Kharkiv and Odessa. It has worn down the Ukrainian army whose losses now well exceed 100,000 (some have put the figure closer to 200,000) dead and seriously wounded. The neo-Nazi battalions have suffered along with the rest. I agree with Hoh that this objective has still to be met, but at least he concedes the existence of a Nazi threat. Ukraine has not been neutralized, true, but as preparations for the upcoming NATO summit in Vilnius are beginning to make clear, the prospects for Ukraine being offered even a timeline for membership are not looking good until or unless it wins what may be, for Ukraine, an unwinnable war.

It is long past the point that the proper focus of analysts’ conjectures should be Russia’s judgement, military strength, political stability, moral fiber. The proper focus of analysts’ conjectures, every day more urgent, is the decision-making adequacy of the institutions of the collective West, and its awful, pathetic, nauseatingly self-righteous, and simply bad and dangerous leadership.

(Featured Image: “Vladimir Putin tours Yevgeny Prigozhin’s Concord food catering factory 11 1 (cropped)” by Government of the Russian Federation is licensed under CC BY 3.0.)


  • Oliver Boyd-Barrett

    Oliver Boyd-Barrett is Professor Emeritus (Journalism and Public Relations) from Bowling Green State University, Ohio and (Communication) from California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. His first book, The International News Agencies, was published by Constable/Sage in 1980, and its French sister, Le Traffic des Nouvelles (with Michael Palmer) by Alain Moreau, in 1981. Since 2000 he has focused on issues of war and propaganda. Recent titles include Hollywood and the CIA (Routledge), Media Imperialism (Sage), Western Mainstream Media and the Ukraine Crisis (Routledge), Russiagate and Propaganda (Routledge), Media Imperialism: Continuity and Change (Rowman and Littlefield)(with Tanner Mirrlees), Conflict Propaganda in Syria (Routledge). Two current projects deal with Russiagate: Aftermath of a Hoax (Palgrave), and Afghanistan: Aftermath of Imperial Occupation (provisional).

    View all posts


  • Oliver Boyd-Barrett

    Oliver Boyd-Barrett is Professor Emeritus (Journalism and Public Relations) from Bowling Green State University, Ohio and (Communication) from California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. His first book, The International News Agencies, was published by Constable/Sage in 1980, and its French sister, Le Traffic des Nouvelles (with Michael Palmer) by Alain Moreau, in 1981. Since 2000 he has focused on issues of war and propaganda. Recent titles include Hollywood and the CIA (Routledge), Media Imperialism (Sage), Western Mainstream Media and the Ukraine Crisis (Routledge), Russiagate and Propaganda (Routledge), Media Imperialism: Continuity and Change (Rowman and Littlefield)(with Tanner Mirrlees), Conflict Propaganda in Syria (Routledge). Two current projects deal with Russiagate: Aftermath of a Hoax (Palgrave), and Afghanistan: Aftermath of Imperial Occupation (provisional).

    View all posts